West Chester, PA − October 4, 2023 – A Chester County-based project that aims to overcome negative stereotypes of black men and boys by sharing their portraits and stories recently visited the Pennsylvania State Capitol in Harrisburg at the invitation of state Senator Carolyn Comitta.
The 20 Men Project, an initiative of the Racial and Cultural Equity (R.A.C.E) Group of Pennsylvania, is a traveling exhibition that works to counter racial bias and recognize the important contributions that black men offer as part of our communities, and our lives.
Comitta invited R.A.C.E. volunteers, including co-founders Christine Martey-Ochola and Susan Miner, and 20 Men Project Lead and Photographer Sandrien Mesman deBruijn to visit Harrisburg and display the portraits in the East Wing Rotunda throughout the month of September.
“We like to say that ‘a picture is worth a thousand words.’ But these images are worth so much more because they are challenging stereotypes, changing perceptions, and bringing us together as community,” Comitta said. “I want to thank all of the organizers and participants of the 20 Men Project for sharing their work as we strive to build a community that is more inclusive, equitable, and resilient for all people.
R.A.C.E. was founded in the aftermath of the horrific murder of George Floyd, when a small group of Chester County mothers came together to raise and address their concerns about racial equity in our community.
The group works to foster open dialogue and engagement among community members, law enforcement, elected officials, school leaders, teachers, health care workers, religious leaders, housing officials, and others.
“We greatly appreciate the highlight that Senator Comitta gave to this project, and the men feel ‘seen’ through this acknowledgement. The team was fully appreciative of all the efforts that went into making our visit special, and we look forward to future partnerships,” said R.A.C.E. Group Co-founder Christine Martey-Ochola.
More than 30 black men from throughout the region have been photographed as part of the 20 Men Project and shared stories about their careers, talents, communities, and life experiences.
“As a multi racial women from the Netherlands, I made an effort to learn a lot about Chester County and the United States, when we moved here in 2014. After the murder of George Floyd, I started to read, watch and listen even more. My dad, who is black, passed away from Alzheimer’s disease during this project and I realized that his sadness and anger in the final days were from situations of intolerance and discrimination that he never shared with me,” said 20 Men Project Lead and Photographer Sandrien Mesman deBruijn. “The men that I photographed shared with me that a lot of black men don’t talk about it. I invited them to share their stories so I could share them (with permission of the men of course) when I talk to people in our community. I hope it encourages community members to talk to each other and listen to their experiences of how it is for them to live in Chester County.”
The next display of the 20 Men Project is this Friday (October 6) as part of the Galley Walk in downtown West Chester. You can view it from 4 to 8 p.m. at the Chester County Community Foundation in the historic Lincoln Building at 28 W. Market Street.
For more information on the 20 Men Project and the work of the R.A.C.E. Group visit racegrouppa.com