Jerome and Jeromyah Jones are unhappy with the way African Americans are often portrayed in popular media. Sensing a lack of positive representation of their community, the father and son decided to shift the scales by creating and sharing a piece of art that would celebrate black history and pay homage to the African American role models who had inspired them. The result was the I AM 400 Banner, a visual representation of black history and an encapsulation of the achievements of generations of African Americans.
The I AM 400 Banner, which was displayed at St. Thomas Aquinas College last Thursday in celebration of Black History Month, is a passion project that represents two careers spent honoring African American artists, athletes, scientists, and leaders. The collection of portraits created by the father and son has been displayed in colleges and public institutions across America, and the duo are excited to continue sharing their work with an ever expanding audience.
“We saw a need to bring attention to the 400 year commemoration of Africans in America coming over on slave ships in 1619,” said Jerome when asked about the inspiration for the project, “it’s our visual history, a great way to combat the negative stereotypes and images that have portrayed our people.” Jerome and Jeromyah have began exhibiting the banner since 2019, but both men have spent much of their life working on the project in some form or another.
As a child, Jeromyah would travel with his family as Jerome, founder of The Painter’s Poetree, went across the country displaying and selling his artwork. Jerome specializes in original portraits and still life paintings, and has been working as a professional artist since graduating from Virginia Commonwealth University with a Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree in 1980. One of Jerome’s favorite subjects is African American role models, and often in their travels the family would find themselves face to face with the men and women depicted in his portraits.
“So often we just read about history, my parents wanted me to meet history,” explained Jeromyah, who recalled meeting Muhammad Ali while his father was selling posters and greeting cards featuring the boxing champion. Ali, and other famous African Americans including Stevie Wonder, General Colin Powell, and Martin Luther King, III, were kind enough to sign their portraits as the artists traveled across the U.S. and encountered each living legend; those portraits are included in the 69 paintings that comprise the I AM 400 Banner.
Jeromyah began painting at the age of 16 and his first piece “Who Hears our Blues?” is included in the banner. Though the duo work separately and use different materials, Jeromyah prefers oil paint while his father uses acrylics, the banner is a combination of their efforts. “We have over 40 years of experience between us” said Jeromyah.
The Jones’ have been “honored and delighted” with the banner’s reception, and Jeromyah was proud to share that many STAC students who saw their work requested that it be left on display year round. Jeromyah thanked STAC’s Chief Diversity Officer Samantha Bazile for adding the banner to her schools’ collection; the father and son are eager to expand their audience and aspire to share their work with as many people as possible.
“Our vision is to see this banner in public institutions across the country and overseas, we look at art as the universal language,” said Jerome. The Jones’ hope that their art, which they consider the family legacy, will foster a greater appreciation and awareness of the cultural and social contributions made by African Americans.