I live in a neighborhood on the verge of gentrification–marked by a very literal socioeconomic railroad track. The home next to mine ominously crepitates, with a second-floor deck threatening to collapse. An overgrown playground, where I have yet to see children play, lay behind an unembellished synagogue, encapsulated in barbed wire. A floral fabric arrangement, overgrown with weeds, lies on the playground corner, marking an undoubtedly emotional shooting. Past a sun-bleached leathery corpse of a possum steaming on the sidewalk, an artistic oddity takes the neighborhood spotlight–a loud wooden structure with towering, vibrating letters “BLACK HOLOCAUST MEMORIAL.” A crude, four-foot papier mâché Black man, wearing a blood-red loincloth and chained—hands and feet—to a podium was central to the thirty-foot art piece memorial. Family is immediately understood as thematically crucial. The installation depicted a Black man, a father, standing central to his family, surrounded by his wife, son, and daughter. His wife grasps his ankles while his son clambering up the podium gazing towards his father, and his daughter looks upwards like her mother. Wrapped up in a medieval carnival exterior are pop culture iconography, like the green M & M, also made of papier mâché.
While I admired the memorial’s handiwork, a small man working on the front bumper of his car was watching me. I switched my attention to the man by the car and smiled at him. He promptly put down his tools and walked over to me with a wide grin, proudly introducing himself as the creator of the memorial. As I learned later, his name is James ‘Double Dutch’ Kimble, Jr., though people call him Dutch. He is a small man in his 60s, standing at only five feet; he wore a faded sweater, with a tired, weathered face under a spotty white stubble. He explained to me he wants to help keep black teens out of trouble and protect family disruption caused by violence. He ended every sentence with, “you see what I mean, man?” Two of his children have gone to jail, which I can only assume inspired the memorial’s creation. He said his art encourages Black youth to understand and stay safe in a culture that still disadvantages them. I inquired about photography, receiving a “sure, man, a lot of you people come here for that.” In an of-routine speech, Dutch swiftly asked if I wanted a photo of him. I admitted that I did, and he took off his sweater revealing a black t-shirt displaying a graphic of a leaping panther over the white, boldened text “NEW BLACK PANTHER PARTY FOR SELF DEFENSE.” I took his photo, thanked him, and walked off to write down my observations. It pleased me that I could capture such an interesting man, though I hope that I could record our conversation to dissect it next time.