When it comes time for the NAACP Duluth Branch to celebrate the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr., as it will next week, the chapter likes to pull up themes from deeper dives into the legendary activist's work.
Last year, the theme was "Birth of a Nation," taken from a sermon King delivered in 1957. This year, the Duluth Branch chose a 1958 paper, one of dozens King wrote at the time, titled, "The Current Crisis in Race Relations" - in which King wrote that segregation "scars the soul and distorts the personality" of both the segregator and the segregated. The practice of keeping races apart in schools, buses, public bathrooms and more gives false superiority to the segregationists and false inferiority to the people being singled out, King said.
"We all know the same quotes - 'I have a dream' and 'I've been to the mountaintop' - but there's a whole other side of King that brings out the things we don't quite know," said Salaam Witherspoon, the third-year chairperson for the 2019 Twin Ports' MLK Tribute Events.
Tapping into King's lesserknown works forces sloganeers to think more deeply about King's messages of acceptance and nonviolent change. To help add meaning to this year's "Current Crisis" theme, NAACP Duluth Branch sought out Blackbird Revolt, a socially conscious marketing agency, to create the MLK event posters.
The agency, locally owned by husband and wife Jordan and Terresa Moses, delivered a three-paneled work that is both simple and complex - stark in its orange and navy colors and bold in its lines and themes.
"We do everything in triptych, as a series of three in most of our works," Terresa said. "It seems kind of natural."
The lasting image of the panels is of a dark-colored hand reaching from turbulent water, while a hand formed from the water attempts to drag down the striving hand. The watery current represents the status quo, the artists said, and how people go along and end up normalizing atrocities such as segregation.
"We're not fighting people who are perpetuating injustice," Jordan said. "We're fighting the injustice itself. I wanted to symbolize we're not fighting the hand itself, but that we're trying to change the current."
Blackbird Revolt started two years ago this January as a way to provide nonprofit agencies with a place to access marketing and graphic expertise.
"There wasn't a lot of art and design work being curated around social justice or identity and helping a community grow," Jordan said. "It was about promoting messages for certain businesses. A lot of entities like ours aren't accessible by non-profits."
The couple saw the work being done in Duluth around anti-racism, feminism and more. They made it their mission to find creative ways to make their work affordable for entities that operate on grant funds and donations.
"We wanted to add something to the awesome work already happening," Jordan said. "We believe in what folks are doing in our community."
Since opening, Blackbird Revolt has worked on branding logos, album covers, a songbook for Justice Choir in St. Paul, and awareness campaigns locally for things such as a hiring campaign for people with disabilities.
"We do a lot of different stuff and people are finding creative ways to use us," Terresa said.
The MLK poster was their second assignment for NAACP Duluth Branch. Upon learning the theme, the couple sketched their ideas and then let the work sit for a while, so they could ruminate on it. The whole process took several weeks.
The final poster for Twin Ports' MLK Tribute Events is an iteration of the three-panel work and was eagerly accepted by the planning committee.
"Blackbird Revolt gives you options and this one stuck out," Witherspoon said. "I was drawn to the work as someone underwater, reaching for help to pull them out."
As the panels progress, that's what happens, Terresa said. Progressing through the panels are more hands emerging from the roiling water, helping one another and finishing in a flourish of fists illustrative of survival and commitment to the fight.
"As it moves forward two hands come together and their humanity starts to kind of push away the system that we're fighting," Terresa said. "Coming together helps the system be dispersed."
The panel work is evocative of a 2017 monologue by Donald Glover's character Earnest "Earn" Marks in the television program "Atlanta" - which details a young black man's travails in life and love.
"I had a weird dream," Earn starts before describing being pulled under water by seaweed that's tangling and alive.
Jordan and Terresa's work started with the emerging hand, but something was missing, they said - how to get the water pulling down the hand.
"I wanted to make the current anthropomorphic - give it a hand that is trying to drag this other hand down," Jordan said.
The couple screen printed 150 of the images - 50 of each panel. The posters are for sale online as a fundraiser for NAACP Duluth Branch.
The hope is that next week's Twin Ports' MLK Tribute Events will be its own hand - one of the local black community reaching out to its neighbors.
"We raise money to have a free event," Witherspoon said. "Our fundraising is all about providing our community the chance to come enjoy a free, kid-friendly event."
2019 Twin Ports' MLK Tribute Events
- 4 p.m., Interfaith church service at Peace United Church of Christ (1111 N 11th Ave E., Duluth)
- 7 a.m., Community breakfast at First United Methodist Church (230 E. Skyline Parkway, Duluth)
- 10 a.m., March through downtown, beginning at Washington Community Center (310 N. First Ave. W., Duluth)
- Noon, Rally at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center
- To buy a print of the MLK poster, visit duluthnaacp.org/mlk
- Posters are $30 and will be available for pickup prior to the rally