The Black Matters Project

CORE and Art Club collaborate throughout Black History Month to share the inspiring stories of Black people in our community and beyond.


Becca Youngers

The complete overview of the showcase of the Black Matters Project

Becca Youngers, Editor-in-chief

As Black History Month comes to a close this week, the principles of the month stay ever-important, most certainly in a private, Catholic high school. Throughout the month, CORE, Community of Racial Equity, and Art Club have created intricate murals displayed in the showcase near the art hallway. These murals feature portraits of Black people in various mediums and art styles. 


The creation of the project came about by Mrs. Kane, head of the Art Department, and Anyiel Akec (12), one of the three co-leaders of CORE. 


The Background

During the 2020-2021 school year, Black Lives Matter signs and messages could be seen throughout the hallways of Dowling Catholic High School. School-wide diversity presentations and demonstrations were a monthly occurrence. Though it was no perfect approach, the intent was there. 


Once the 2021-2022 school year was in session, though, things were different. The signs that had originally been placed throughout the hallways were gone. In the early fall of 2021, remaining Black Lives Matter as well as pride signs, flags and messages were taken down throughout the school and deemed ‘political statements.’ 


Wanting to take action, Akec met with Kane, who had created the foundations of an idea for Black History Month. 


“Pretty much we were kinda just talking about how they [the school] took down the BLM signs, and she was like ‘I have a project for you guys in February, but I want you to start early,’” Akec said. 


As the months went on, Akec and Kane worked together, collaborating ideas and inspiration. By mid-January of 2022, their plan had come together. 


“It was originally going to be one [mural] that hung up the whole month, but we decided to do different ones weekly, just to get more content in,” Akec said.  


Each of the weeks was to have a different focus: Black Iowans, Black Creators and Black Graduates of Dowling.


Below is a focus on each week, its creation and the inspiring Black people featured in each mural.


Week 1: Black Iowa History Matters

For the first week of Black History Month, Akec and Kane decided to focus on Black Iowans and their contributions to history. But Akec wanted to make sure that present-day Black Iowans were being represented as well. 


The four Iowans represented for the Black Iowa History Matters were Nikole Hannah-Jones by Eleanor Bootman (12), Gertrude Durden Rush by Akec, Edna Griffin by Kane and Indira Sheumaker by Lukas Franko (12). 

The Black Iowa History Matters of the Black Matters Project (Becca Youngers)

Nikole Hannah-Jones, as shown on the display, is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter. She is the creator of the 1619 project, and this is one of the reasons Akec wanted to highlight her. 


“It [The 1619 Project] has a lot of controversy with it, especially here in Iowa, which is kind of ironic because she was born and raised in Waterloo. But I kind of thought, you know, let’s honor someone who, I feel like, Iowa hasn’t really honored very much,” Akec said. 


During the creation of the Black Iowa History Matters display, the inspiration for the style came from a famous artist, Andy Warhol. 


“It was a no-school day, and we all kind sat, it was us two and Anyiel, and we were like, ‘How are we supposed to do this?’ And somebody had the idea of like Andy Warhol and pop art, and so we kind of went with that,” Bootman said. 


During the first week of Black History Month, the Black Iowa History Matters was placed in the showcase for display. 


Week 2: Black Creators Matter

For the second week of Black History Month, Akec and Kane focused on Black Creators of all kinds. This included but was not limited to: writers, actors, fashion designers, musicians and artists. For this week, the amount of portraits was expanded to represent the diversity of creativity. 


“In the beginning, I was thinking more like ‘book people,’ and it’s kinda like, Black people have done more than write books; there’s other things that they have done. So we just looked at different aspects of creation,” Akec said. 

The Black Creators of the Black Matters Project (Becca Youngers)

The nine Black Creators represented in the display were James Baldwin by Madi Bruck (12), Tarell Alvin McCraney by Franko, Kehinde Wiley by Joe Baumhover (12), Ava Duvernay by Emma Schaefer (12), Jean-Michel Basquiat by Selena Germano (10), Toni Morrison by Eva Lynner (12), Chadwick Boseman by Bootman, Virgil Abloh by Baumhover and Bob Marley by Akec. 


For Baumhover, an artist himself, this week’s creations were extremely influential for him. Baumhover created a portrait of Kehinde Wiley, a painter who often references old paintings of white people, instead painting Black people in his portraits. Baumhover also created a portrait of Virgil Abloh, the late fashion designer behind the acclaimed fashion brand Off-White as well as Louis Vuitton. 


“Both of these artists express themselves through their medium, and a lot of what they did was impacted by their experiences and by things that they went through, and I like to do that in my art as well,” Baumhover said. 


The Black Creators Matter display entered the second panel of the showcase during the second week of Black History Month.


Week 3: Black Grads Matter

For the third week of Black History Month and the final week of portraits, Akec and Kane wanted to honor those closest to the Dowling community: Black Graduates of Dowling and St. Joseph’s Academy. From athletes to artists, Akec and Kane wanted to display their accomplishments and contributions during the third week of Black History Month. 

The Black Grads of the Black Matters Project (Becca Youngers)

The portraits of this week were created in a grayscale, and the colorful accents behind them accentuate their depth. 


The thirteen Black Graduates represented in the display were Janae Gray by Lauren Orazem (12), Daryll Hunter by Reese Lovell (10), Marthaellen Florence by Baumhover, Rico Gafford by Schaefer, Ruth Ann Gaines by Lynner, Isaiah Patton by Akec, Josie Filer by Germano, Anthony Brooks by Becca Celsi (12), Michelle Parker by Franko, Louis Brooks by Rachel Smith (12) Judy James by Franko, Frank Allen by Baumhover and Alek Jok by Akec. 


Some of these graduates have walked through the hallways with current Dowling students such as Louis Brooks, a State Champion football player and current player at Iowa Western Community College. Some have returned to Dowling as employees such as Frank Allen, a desk greeter whose portrait was painted by Baumhover. 


“It was such a cool experience painting Frank Allen and Marthaellen Florence. I had not met either of them before painting their portraits, but through learning their stories online and working on their portraits, but through learning their stories online and working on their portraits, I really felt connected with them and very fortunate to bring attention to their lives through artwork,” Baumhover said.


The Black Graduates entered the third panel of the showcase during the third week of Black History Month.


The Importance:

The Black Matters Project, a project created by Akec and Kane, shares the importance of Black representation in the Dowling community. But more importantly, it serves as commentary on the Dowling community and its efforts, or lack-thereof, toward creating an inclusive and welcoming environment for its Black students and faculty. 


Honoring Black people and their accomplishments should not be up for debate, but going into the project, Akec knew what could be at stake as a Dowling student.


“It’s weird because as we were making this, I was going in this with the full intention that I could definitely get in trouble, it’s going to be taken down. So it was weird to see it not. That’s good news, but it’s weird,” Akec said. 


To conclude, I asked Akec and a few of the artists who devoted time to the Black Matters Project about its importance. Here were their responses:


“I’ve never thought about being actively involved in something, and, you know, actually doing stuff. It’s less on the sidelines and more in your face; it’s literally, you look at it. That was exciting to me to actually feel part of something,” Bootman said.


“I like doing it. I think it’s really cool to have art projects displayed for Black History Month in the display case. And highlighting people in Iowa who are current and historical, and people who influence our lives with the creators, and next week is Dowling graduates so it’s like, people who are even more local. It’s always cool and important to highlight those people,” Franko said. 


“This was an important project for me because it brought attention to a lot of important people that may otherwise be left in the shadows. All of these people have made a path for many Dowling students that came after them through their own individual achievements,” Baumhover said.


“To me, I think it’s kind of like a way of showing, because with them taking the Black Lives Matter sign down in September/October, it kind of felt like, ok well we’re switching up, we can’t even value our lives,” Akec said. “And here’s this project; it kind of critiques it. I know some people saw the sign and they were like ‘Wow, I’m mad,’ but why are you mad? It doesn’t have any of the negative connotations attached with Black Lives Matter. It simply makes you think, ‘What is the real problem as to why people don’t like Black Lives Matter?’”


Below is a gallery of all of the images of the Black Matters Project. All photos by Becca Youngers.