(Updated 2/24/2013)- Just three days before Black History Month rolled in, Bowie, Md.-based photographer Eunique Jones Gibson met with her business partner, Ashleigh Bing, about doing a photo project based on the celebration.
The 29-year-old photographer and owner of Eunique Jones Photography specializes in capturing non-traditional love and “life moments” such as engagements, weddings and newborns. Often, her subjects are newborn babies wrapped up in between the shelves of book cases or hidden in a pumpkin patch. But she was itching for a new passion project.
In 2011, Gibson teamed up with more than 100 people, ranging in age from six months old to grandmothers, for her “I Am Trayvon Martin” Project. The photos depicted Black and brown people—and a few sprinklings of Whites—of all ages donning grey hoodies with their name and occupation on their photo.
With the re-election of President Barack Obama and the recent birth of her second son, Gibson said she felt God was pushing her to show the correlation the traditional and not-so-traditional paths black leaders were paving for the future generation. Thus, her self-funded project “Because of Them, I Can…” was born.
“I have always had a camera as long as I can remember. My dad introduced me,” said Gibson. “I started taking my hobby more seriously three years ago.”
Gibson put out a casting call for photos of children ages three to nine years old via social media for the project and received more than 300 responses. After matching up the children with her list of Black leaders, she dressed one in a Brooklyn fitted, oversized glasses and a MARS chain for the Spike Lee photo shoot, and tap shoes and a black fedora to represent Savion Glover.
Other takeoffs on notable Black figures included Oprah, Langston Hughes, Malcolm X, RUN D.M.C. and an un-planned Colin Powell and Condoleeza Rice, when one boy’s casting photo depicted an uncanny resemblance to the former secretary of state.
“I had individuals that I had heard of and researched in school like your Frederick Douglass and your Mary McLeod Bethune, but I also thought about people who are currently around and paving the way. People who are currently blazing trails,” said Gibson.
Each day of the month, Gibson has rolled out a photo of a child depicting a Black leader with a famous quote or saying from the leader through Facebook, Instagram and the project’s official website becauseofthemwecan.com. The photos have received over 20,000 shares and likes on Facebook and have reached more than a half a million people.
But for Gibson and many others who reached out to her via social media, the short month of February was not enough time to depict all of the leaders or resonate the importance of Black history with her audience.
“People have been asking me for the Black Panthers or the Tuskegee Airmen,” said Gibson. “It’s impossible to tell our history in just the 28 days of Black History Month.”
Gibson has decided to extend the “Because of Them, I Can… “ project for a full year, with hopes to do casting calls for kids in cities around the country such as Chicago, Atlanta and Philadelphia.
“It’s very encouraging that President Barack Obama is in office, but the fact that he is in office isn’t the panacea to all problems. Black History Month is still very important to our kids. You can’t eradicate or erase the damage of slavery or years of injustice. The way we uplift our kids and our community is not just through Black History Month, but outside of it too,” said Gibson.
At the end of February, a 18-month calendar and poster sets from the campaign will be available for purchase at becauseofthemwecan.com. Gibson said she hopes to turn the photos into a book.