By Nicole S. Daniel
The Birmingham Times
Willie Williams Jr., owner, curator, and artist of Studio 2500, an art gallery in the northern Birmingham area on Finley Blvd. is aware that the city recorded more homicides last year than it had in decades.
“First and foremost, it’s very sad and unfortunate that not only violence is still occurring at higher rates in this city but, it seems to be getting even worse,” he said.
Williams has found a number of ways to assist those who have lost loved ones to violence. On Monday, February 20, World Day of Social Justice, he will host a community conversation, “Overcoming Gun Violence, Pursuing Justice and Peace” beginning at 10 a.m., Studio 2500, 2500 26th Ave Birmingham, AL.
“I wanted to [use] that day for talking about violence, especially in the city of Birmingham. I got in contact with the mothers who lost sons to gun violence to get their perspective of that traumatic experience,” he said. “During the conversation I want to discuss some possible solutions on how justice and peace can be promoted, and our relationships with each other.”
He’s also used his art to help provide comfort for heartbroken families. He met Sheree Kennon through a mutual friend prior to the holiday season. On February 25, 2021, Kennon lost her son, Detraio Deshawn Whorton, 27, to gun violence and later founded What About Us, Birmingham-based nonprofit organization that provides support services for those who have experienced the loss of a child.
After learning about the organization, Williams decided that gifting the mothers with sculptures was touching way to end a year of violence in Birmingham.
“That’s the time during the holidays they are really thinking about their loved ones. I primarily [made the sculptures] because I wanted to let them know they are not by themselves, people care and are thinking about them and though sometimes the world shows an ugly side of itself the world also have bright sides,” said Williams, who made about 24 metal sculptures over a week for the moms.
Kennon’s nonprofit has hosted several events for grieving mothers where they hugged, laughed and vented while enjoying finger foods and soft music and, at one event, were presented small sculptures that also included a West African symbol called Aya which represents “endurance, independence, defiance against difficulties, hardiness, perseverance, and resourcefulness.”
“On the sculptures is an Adinkra symbol that symbolizes strength and resourcefulness during hard times,” Williams said. “I made that symbol to remind them [the parents] of their inner strength with going through grief and loss of their loved one. They needed to be reminded and encouraged that they are strong and resilient even through the struggles and obstacles that they have faced,” he said.
Kennon was caught by surprise when she received the sculptures. She didn’t know exactly what it symbolized at first but after Williams explained “it made me realize losing a child is something we are going through at this very moment but, we are still trying to overcome it, deal with it and recognize our feelings.”
Kennon added, “. . . the meaning of the sculpture showed us that we are strong, we have been through a terrible thing but just like a fern it grows in cold without water and sunshine and that’s what we are. We are broken but we are still growing and rebuilding and the sculpture brings hope.”
Williams has been creating art most of his life but didn’t start practicing professionally until he graduated from Birmingham Southern College in 2018. He opened his gallery about six years ago.
“We have been showing art from different artists locally and nationally. We like to promote artist that tells a very unique story and adds a very important impression into the culture.”
it’s time to come together as a community and promote more positive outlets for our youth. If we do that they will resort to something else besides violence. There is still hope and work to do for a better day.”
Asked the importance of finding ways to curb the high number of homicides in the city, Williams said, “That was actually my reason for [hosting] this Monday event. It’s time to come together as a community and promote more positive outlets for our youth. If we do that they will resort to something else besides violence. There is still hope and work to do for a better day.”
“Overcoming Gun Violence, Pursuing Justice and Peace”, Monday, February 20, 10 a.m.-12 p.m. Studio 2500, 2500 26th Ave Birmingham, AL 205-324-4855 Instagram is @studio.twenty.five.00