It’s been a trying 18 months for race relations in the U.S.
Evidence of the discord is readily available on social media, where many have taken sides — instead of recognizing a social problem — as people of different races and ethnicities continue to struggle to understand one another.
“It’s been overwhelming and it’s hurtful,” said lifelong Patchogue resident Tracy Todd Hunter, “to see people who you think you know — people you think are your friends — spitting out this rhetoric on Facebook.”
“There’s just been so much negativity between the police and African-American communities, and it’s opened up a dialogue that’s been a little perverse,” he continued. “Much of what’s been said is just really, really nasty. It’s mean-spirited.”
The group Hunter founded in 2011 — Of Colors Creative Collective at Artspace Patchogue — will be bucking that trend Saturday at an annual event that typically attracts hundreds to the Artspace gallery.
The theme of this year’s Of Colors Black History Exhibition & Diversity Celebration is “Let There Be Love.”
Let There Be Love is somewhat self-explanatory.
“The idea is bring people together and let there be love,” Hunter said.
What separates Saturday from other events focused on diversity, is the Of Colors group isn’t looking to foster some important dialogue.
They just want people of different races and ethnicities to get together and have a little fun.
“That’s what it’s all about,” he said. “Just having a really good time, together.”
“It’s just a fun night,” said Marian Russo, the Patchogue Village CDA director and an Of Colors volunteer who calls herself Hunter’s organizational assistant. “It’s such mix of people and everyone feeds off the positive energy, so when it’s over it’s like, wow that felt so good. And I think many people come away feeling the same thing.”
There will be over 50 pieces on display in the gallery from 32 different artists who range from residents in the apartment building to local artists and artists from elsewhere in New York and even Puerto Rico.
There’s live music and Of Colors also invites distinguished guests as honorees. (Their names are below.)
About 15 people help put the event together, said Hunter, an artist who’s lived at Arstpace since it opened in February 2011.
One of those helpers is David Kennedy, the executive director of the Greater Patchogue Chamber of Commerce, who got involved three years ago. Kennedy said he’s proud of Patchogue as one of the more diverse places on Long Island, and so he jumped at the opportunity to help celebrate that.
“Long Island is one of the more segregated areas in America,” he said. “But here in Patchogue we have a true mix of people and cultures.”
“We don’t have enclaves,” Russo added of Patchogue, where people from different backgrounds are often found living near one another on the same blocks — not in different neighborhoods.
Still, Kennedy said, there’s much work to be done to get those groups together in social settings.
Saturday night is a chance to do just that.
“We were always a diverse community here, but there are still those walls,” Kennedy said. “Tracy’s breaking down those walls. And that’s been a wonderful thing.”
This is the the fifth annual Black History Exhibition & Diversity Celebration. It starts at 5 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 13, at 20 Terry Street. It’s free and open to anyone who wishes to attend.
Black History Month honorees:
Melba Tolliver / Jason Neal / E. James Freeman / Corrinne Graham / Phil Andrews
Diversity Celebration honorees:
Beth Giacummo-Lachacz / Soave Martinez / John Cino / Christopher Allan / Jill Sisselman
Honorary video tribute:
“To Sir…With Love” Baron Degner
Photo: Tracy Todd Hunter walks in the black history exhibit at Artspace Tuesday. (Michael White)