By Katherine Klein, Equality for All Advocacy Coordinator

As a feminist, my conceptions of masculinity in modern-day society are not positive, but as a white woman I don’t very often think about the intersections of black, masculine identity nor what that would mean for a young man of color growing up in rural Mississippi. The Reclaiming Our Origins Through Stories, or R.O.O.T.S., exhibition does an excellent job of telling a narrative. It not only tells the story of the young boys presented in the project, but also of the present and future of young men of color everywhere.

In many ways, children are a reflection of the values we see in them to begin with. They will often act out what we expect out of them. If we treat young men of color like they are more likely to be criminals, we ourselves are culpable in the system that reinforces those negative stereotypes. In this way, R.O.O.T.S. does an excellent job of reflecting the mirror back at us. As we hear the young men in the project begin to shape the narrative about what they can be, rather than what society tells them they have to be, we too are transformed in our conceptions of black masculinity and identity.

Marian Wright Edelman once wrote, “You can’t be what you can’t see”. The reverse implication of this quote is that you will be what you do see; that children will emulate that which is around them. I found it very inspiring to see the boys and young men of the R.O.O.T.S. project aiming so high in their future ambitions. Undoubtedly, many of them will attain their goals, in no small part thanks to the guidance of the R.O.O.T.S. project. They in turn will become mentors for their community, and continue to be good role models for future generations. In this way, R.O.O.T.S. will far outlive its original grant and its results will impact the lives of children in the Mississippi Delta and the state for years to come.

In short, I found the R.O.O.T.S. experience to be informative and eye-opening and would strongly recommend it to my colleagues and friends.