In honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and Black History Month, Ypsilanti’s Riverside Center for the Arts will host a month-long art exhibit featuring more than 20 local African-American artists.

The exhibition, sponsored by the Washtenaw County African American Historical and Cultural Museum and Ronnie and Gloria Peterson, will take place from Friday, January 20 through Tuesday, February 28 with an opening reception from 6-8 pm on the first day.

At the kickoff event, guests will have the opportunity to meet the local artists whose art will be featured and experience their art. There will also be guest speakers and entertainment.

“The public will witness the narration carried out through the visual arts. Stories of joy, love, struggle, history and self-expression,” said Lynne Settles, one of the exhibition committee members. “Witness how the artists bring their pieces to life through the use of textures, lines, shapes and colors that harken back to African roots.”

The theme of the exhibition is entitled “Why We Can’t Wait” taken from the book of the same name by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. written in 1964 about the movement against racial segregation in the United States.

“This exhibit is an example of the diversity of thought and ideas within a culture that is still grappling with issues of racism, segregation, black identity, and ongoing healing,” Settles said. “It is an outpouring of artistic expression that helps open our eyes to injustice and conveys powerful new visions and possibilities.”

This is the first time that the Washtenaw County Museum of African American History and Culture has collaborated with black artists to present an exhibit of its kind. The goal is to not only share this art with the public, but also to raise awareness for local black artists.

“Our hope is that this exhibit will encourage people to support black artists and learn something from a different perspective,” Settles said. “Many of the featured artists are female artists and it can be hard to be an artist statistically, but it’s even harder for women.”

Asha Jordan, one of the artists in the exhibition, finds her artwork inspired by influential black women.

“I specifically selected three pieces for the exhibit and they are mostly black women,” Jordan said. “Yes, I chose those pieces for MLK Day. But what a lot of people don’t understand is that there are a lot of powerful black women behind every great black man, you know? That’s more or less what I’m trying to express through my art. So I just want to make sure that I show that in the exhibit.”

One of Jordan’s artworks is inspired by singer-songwriter and activist Erykah Badu. She also credits Mahalia Jackson, the woman who Dr. King says inspired her “I Have a Dream” speech.

As an artist, Jordan also does some activism on his own.

“Over the years, I have marched as an activist holding my own paintings,” Jordan said. “I’m trying to do something even bigger as an activist within my artwork.”

Along with activism, Jordan knows that raising awareness among a people and their community means connecting with them.

“There are a lot of people who want to buy art,” Jordan said. “They want to know where you can see and find artists. This is an opportunity for them to connect with artists within their own community, especially black artists.”

The public can see more works by Jordan and other artists in the exhibition.

To attend, please RSVP at 734-480-ARTS. This event is free to the public.