Breaking Stereotypes, Humanizing People

The Color-Brave Photo Project: Black and Brown Faces, A New Narrative, a travelling exhibit from FIT Oshkosh, Inc., is coming to Door County. Its goal is to celebrate the lives of people of color, including African-Americans, Latinos and Asians from Oshkosh and elsewhere, through portraits and their accompanying stories.

The exhibit is coming here in partnership with JUST Door County Inc., Hope United Church of Christ, the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Door County (UUFDC) and the Door County Civility Project. Kathleen Toerpe, executive director of JUST Door County, chatted with me about hosting the project here at Hope United Church of Christ.

This partnership with FIT Oshkosh came about because Tracey Robertson, executive director of FIT Oshkosh, is on the advisory group for JUST Door County. Robertson has been a mentor to Toerpe, she said, in helping start JUST Door County. They wanted to collaborate on bringing the project here.

The project is really a way to bring awareness to the community. It features people from Oshkosh and aims to create a new narrative. According to their website, there are false notions that residents of color move to Oshkosh from the “hoods” of Milwaukee or Chicago, or because of the prison there, the largest in Wisconsin.

The aim of the project is to steer the narrative away from that one, and to create the understanding that people are complex and have a variety of reasons for choosing where to live and work.

While those racialized notions may be specific to Oshkosh, the overall sentiment can be applied to any municipality, those of Door County included.

“Some of the same issues that people of color see in Oshkosh are the same issues of not feeling welcomed, not feeling included, feeling profiled or spotlighted because of their race,” Toerpe said. “Those are some of the issues that people of color of Door County feel.”

JUST Door County has been collecting stories, and some have been brought to their attention during the last year, about instances where people have not felt welcome in Door County. There have been instances where people have been refused service or have experienced racial or ethnic slurs making them feel profiled, Toerpe said. That includes long-term and short-term residents.

“We need to start these conversations here,” Toerpe said. “Change doesn’t happen until people are aware.”

They’ve been looking for patterns and similarities in the stories they’ve heard. Doing so helps them understand what needs to be at the forefront of the conversation.

“We really look at them as a guidebook as to where the education needs to start happening or where some of these conversations need to start happening,” Toerpe said.

The goal isn’t to shame any businesses, employees or the community. The goal is to create understanding surrounding the experiences that people of color have experienced up here and elsewhere. It’s a step toward creating a more welcoming and inclusive environment.

In the end, the Color-Brave Photo Project is sharing these experiences through photography, and using that art form to spread the message is indispensable, Toerpe said. The portraits aren’t staged – they’re candid photos where people are smiling, laughing or crying. It allows us to really see people as individuals. It’s about humanizing each other beyond stereotypes and labels.

The Color-Brave Photo Project runs from Friday, Aug. 24 through Sunday, Aug. 26 at Hope United Church of Christ, 141 S. 12th Avenue in Sturgeon Bay. Hours are 10 am – 4 pm Aug. 24 and 25, and 10 am – 3 pm on Aug. 26. All are invited to a reception and a special evening viewing of the exhibit at Hope UCC on Aug. 24, 6 pm, followed by a community conversation about the exhibit facilitated by FIT Oshkosh leadership at 7 pm. All events are free.

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