Haines City Teachers & Students Create Black History Exhibit

HAINES CITY — Like a lot of cities across Central Florida, Haines City is hosting an exhibition in honor of Black History Month. But in this city in Polk County, it’s local teachers and students who are creating the art.

Now through Friday, Feb. 23, Haines City’s Community Redevelopment Agency is hosting its first art exhibition with a Black History Month theme. The exhibit is being held at the gallery at the Lake Eva Event Center, featuring artwork by Kent McAllister. In addition to being an artist, he’s also an art teacher at Boone Middle School, and McAllister brought artwork by his students as well.

The Event Center, 303 Ledwith Ave., is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

What is the Black History Exhibit in Haines City?

Jane Murphy, manager of the CRA, noted that this is Haines City’s first art show celebrating Black History Month, which runs from Feb. 1 through March 1. Art, Murphy noted, can be both a changemaker and a storyteller — and one of the strongest resources any community has. She added that art can also serve to create unity within a community, as virtually no other resource can.

“What a beautiful way to celebrate culture in a way that screams life and drive,” Murphy said. “I want art lovers to show and enjoy not only the work of a brilliant artist but that of his students at Boone Middle as well.”

This was a fabulous opportunity, noted McAllister. For one thing, it demonstrates to the public the rich talent of his “amazing art students,” he said. Those students chose interesting subjects for their artwork, focusing on strong individuals and attractive color schemes.

“This really shows my ability to teach art,” McAllister said. “My style is unique — bold dark lines, vivid colors and striking approach to mankind.”

All aspiring students start out uniquely, he pointing out, recalling that he got into art as a child by coloring on cardboard boxes at the Boys & Girls Club. Now age 54, McAllister has been painting for 30 years, and added that he was very grateful for the opportunity the city gave him to showcase not only his own work, but what his students were doing.

After this exhibit closes, the Lake Eva Gallery will host an exhibition by Craig Collins, associate vice president of Corporate and Leadership Development at Polk State College and other local artists who use daily home furnishings as elaborate canvasses.

Bringing Business Back to Oakland

The Community Redevelopment Agency is working on another special project during Black History Month: bringing back businesses to the city’s historically black Oakland neighborhood. Murphy said the focus is on the redevelopment and revitalization of the neighborhood’s retail district.

The Oakland neighborhood is Haines City’s historic black community, and African Americans are 32% of the city’s population. The Oakland business district even has a historical marker. Lekia Johnson, the CRA’s business and community redevelopment officer, recalls a time when Oakland was booming with black-owned businesses.

“We had a thriving record store, laundromat, several corner stores, barbershops, salons, juke joints, restaurants, and growing churches,” she said.

Murphy said she wants to bring businesses back to the neighborhood, and urged all city residents to get involved to make it happen.

“It matters to your CRA that if you live, own property, own a business, or work in the Northeast and Oakland communities, you become involved in the conversation that spurs quality change,” Murphy said.

Michael Freeman is an Orlando journalist, playwright, and author of the book A Christmas Eve Story. Contact him at Freelineorlando@gmail.com.

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