Celebrating Black History

This month, and throughout the year, we celebrate Black History and the endless contributions African Americans have made in the arts. We’re highlighting some of our favorite youth created artworks inspired by influential African American artists, musicians, dancers, and athletes.  

Larger than life portraits of Florence Griffith Joyner & Julius Erving were created by Exyo youth for our annual performance Arts in Motion in 2003. 

Florence Griffith Joyner, aka Flo-Jo, was an African American sprinter who won a total of 5 Olympic Medals in 1984 & 1988. She set outstanding world records while expressing herself through her style with unique outfits and long colorful fingernails.  

Julius Erving, aka Dr. J, is a former professional basketball player regarded as one of the most influential players of all time. Erving was one of the first players to make improvised individual expression an integral part of the game, setting the style of play that would prevail in the decades to follow. 

Inspired by contemporary African- American artist, Nick Cave, Exyo teens created Soundsuits for our annual performance ALIVE in 2018. Performing to the energetic beats of the drumming group, the Northshore Recovery High School Group animated these suits, allowing the colored radio to bleed across the air with fierce emotion and life. 

Through the decades, Cave has continued to address issues of racial inequality in the United States and his heritage, through his unique fabric sculptures and performances. His Soundsuits are a blend of fashion and sculpture, serving as a second skin that obscures race, gender, and class, allowing viewers to look without bias towards the wearer’s identity. -art21.org  


EXYO Youth recreated Jacob Lawrence “The Migration Series Panel #58”. Thinking outside of paint and canvas, our youth came up with all kinds of creative materials to make their masterpieces. Jacob Lawrence was one of the first nationally recognized African American artists. “Through his vivid, accessible visual storytelling, Lawrence presented the richness and complexities of African American history and culture both to his own community and to the larger world”. –MoMa 


Portraits of Robert Johnson, Billie Holiday and Louis Armstrong were created for our annual performance Red Hot and Blue in 2010, paying tribute to some of the most influential musicians of all time.  

Robert Johnson was an American blues musician and songwriter known as the king of the Delta Blues singers. Billie Holiday is remembered for her musical masterpieces, her songwriting skills, creativity and courageous views on inequality and justice. Louis Armstrong was an American trumpeter and vocalist, known as a founding father of jazz. Their extraordinary talents continue to shape modern music today. 

Photo by Mike Dean www.mikedeanphotos.com

For over 15 years, Joh has been teaching traditional African drumming and dancing to Express Yourself youth and the community. He welcomes each new drumming group with his Djembe symbolizing “come together in peace”, and each rhythm he teaches has its own story. The language of the African drum echos around the world and with our youth’s internal rhythms.  Complex African rhythms influence modern American music and contemporary Afro Latin styles.  Drumming together provides an energetic connection that illuminates the strength and resilience of the youth we work with. 

Photo by Mike Dean www.mikedeanphotos.com

Alvin Ailey Jr. was an African American dancer, director, choreographer, and activist who founded the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, one of the first professional companies where dancers of all races and backgrounds were welcome. Throughout its history, Ailey’s company has explored themes of African American heritage and culture. Best known for his masterwork, Revelations, which has been seen by 23 million people in 71 countries, more than any other modern dance work. His hope-fueled choreography continues to inspire the dancers in our studio and all around the world.  

Afrofuturistic Portrait inspired by Janelle Monae | 2019 EXYO25