Do you see yourself in the people who live in Brookhill Village? This photographer is making it happen

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Courtesy of the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture
Welcome to Brookhill exhibit by Alvin C. Jacobs Jr.

You may be familiar with Alvin C. Jacobs Jr.’s photography without realizing it. Jacobs accompanied Jay-Z on several dates of his 4:44 tour, and has also worked with NASCAR, CNN, Fox News, and other prominent national media sources and sports teams in the past few years.   

Beyond his national commercial success, Jacobs uses his renowned photography skills as a visual activist. What that means: He uses beautifully composed yet challenging images to bring attention to vital issues such as police brutality, racism, systematic poverty and gentrification. In the past few years, Jacobs has flown around the country to capture images of protests, including Standing Rock in North Dakota, The Millions March in Manhattan, and protests in Baltimore and Ferguson. With each trip, Jacob brings back images he hopes will “transform policy and change minds” with vivid illustrations of the people and trials they face.  

“Examples are the truth,” he says of his visual documentation, and they have the power to show viewers “exactly what was happening, with the visual context as to why.”  

”It’s not about the composition, lighting, settings on the camera,” Jacobs says. “It’s about how to get conversations started around these images and change lives.”

Jacobs’ work documenting the uprisings that took place throughout Charlotte in 2016 in response to the shooting of Keith Lamont Scott is featured prominently in the K(NO)W Justice K(NO)W Peace exhibit at the Levine Museum of the New South. Although originally designed as a temporary exhibit, the museum recently announced that the exhibition will stay open indefinitely due to popular demand and will likely get national exposure through a traveling tour or online archives.

Most recently, Jacobs was commissioned by the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture to document the lives of the residents of Brookhill Village in the exhibit “Welcome to Brookhill.”  This exhibit illustrates the effects of gentrification on vulnerable populations through striking black and white images of the occupants of Brookhill Village.

Located between Remount Road and West Tremont Avenue, 36-acre Brookhill Village is one of the last low-income housing communities in close proximity to Center City.  Brookhill Village has eluded the rapid development that its neighboring communities have experienced because its land and properties are owned by two separate companies. Despite the fact that this ownership structure has delayed the sale and redevelopment of this community, residents live in uncertainty, knowing that their homes could be sold to developers any day. That could leave them without an affordable place to live. Additionally, many of the buildings are in poor condition.

 

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“Welcome to Brookhill” opens TONIGHT @ our Exhibition Preview Party from 6-11 PM! #welcometobrookhill

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Jacobs’ images show rubble from razed buildings, and dilapidated residential units. But his images also show the people who live there, giving us a glimpse of the close-knit community and the stories of the individuals who live there.  

Jacobs spent his first few weeks on the Brookhill project walking around and building relationships with the residents. Although some were skeptical at first, they quickly opened up to him, welcomed them into their homes, and shared their stories and life experiences throughout the months he was working on the project. Jacobs felt a familiarity with the people of Brookhill from the start.   

“There is a community in [my hometown of] Rockford, Illinois called The Terrace that reminds me of Brookhill. It was built around the last World War, and is even painted the same colors,” Jacobs says. “Meeting the people also felt familiar because I saw many of my friends and relatives in the residents of Brookhill.” 

There’s Van “2Face” Anthony, who can be seen in a number of photos.

“He was one of the first residents that I met upon arrival,” Jacobs says. “We talk several times a week and I’m extremely proud to know him. His family is featured so prominently because our relationship is real and his personality comes across great when photographed. There’s nothing staged about any image he’s displayed in.” 

Jacobs was also impacted by the way the Brookhill residents looked after each other.

One of the older residents is differently-abled and explained that the individuals in the community, if something were to happen to her, would take good care of her,” Jacobs says. “The transparency of our conversation was amazing, and I learned that no matter where you live in a city, a village can be exactly that.” 

Jacobs’ stunning black and white photographs show us a village of children reading stories and playing on building steps, a father tenderly carrying his baby girl and watching her toddle across the front yard, men and women smiling and posing elegantly for the camera. Captions describe a community where neighbors support and look out for each other, and residents’ uncertainty of what their futures will hold once their homes are inevitably sold to developers. 


“I want people in Charlotte to see themselves [in these images],” Jacobs says. “There are families and people doing the exact same things that we all do throughout the city of Charlotte, working and trying to survive in an increasingly competitive environment.”

He adds: “Poverty is generational, and these hardworking people are systematically denied upward mobility.” 

According to Jacobs, many residents are supporting their families on income levels far below the poverty level. However, he noted that all of them have worked hard to improve their circumstances.

“Many of the residents of Brookhill understand what they’re up against,” he says, “and anyone that has been in a particular situation long enough to have tried almost everything to escape, becomes honest with the responsibility that is beyond their control. The individuals I had the pleasure to photograph either had full-time jobs, were students, or recently retired, but everyone was doing something every single day to better themselves and their situation.”

Welcome to Brookhill is showing at the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African American Arts + Culture through Sept. 1, 2019.  For more information about the Gantt and the exhibit, visit www.ganttcenter.org. For more of Alvin C. Jacobs’ images, follow him on Instagram at @acjphoto.

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