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How Frederick Douglass resonates today

Mint alumni Breonna Collins is an artist, filmmaker, student and creative entrepreneur who launched Gospel Beauty, which sells soap, accessories and other beauty items. She attends Wayne State University, where she is majoring in biochemistry with a minor in animation.

She has an active, curious mind and is always coming up with ideas and insights. So we asked her about Black heroes and historical figures.

Breonna Collins, Mint alumni

Who is your favorite person from Black history? Why does he / she resonate with you?

I have many favorite people from black history so it is too hard to say who is my single favorite. But I’ll select one for what’s going on in the world. And that person would be Fredrick Douglass.

1856 photograph of activist and orator Frederick Douglas from National Portrait Gallery

How does Frederick Douglass speak to and connect with the Black Lives Matter and other black campaigns and movements going on today?

I personally feel like organizations today would benefit from him because he could break down the meaning of what America is about. Not to mention he was a slave who freed himself and rebuilt himself. He went from being a slave to statesman. So, I believe he could teach these organizations how to get progress done. I believe he would have kicked any corrupt person out of the group. People like anarchists, extremists etc.

How do you interpret Black history in the context of today’s situation, good and bad?

I believe that Black History Month is a good month to celebrate how far Black people have gotten in America and around the world.

I think of Black History Month as a sacred month, like a sacred shrine that holds our tears, smiles, blood, pain, sorrow, laughter, our entire culture! A time where we can pay homage to the great ancestors before us who had to do the hard work to get us here. Not just black but, whites too. Black History Month isn’t just an African American thing but it’s an American thing. Because the lives we mourn, celebrate and respect this month bled to build this nation. And it’s a horrible memory that America has but, one that must never be forgotten so that it doesn’t happen again!

Learn more about Frederick Douglass in this PBS short written biography, in The Guardian interview with his biographer or watch this 7-minute FreeSchool video on Douglass’ life and journey to freedom. Follow Breonna Collins on Instagram.

Portraits used with permission.  Frederick Douglass painting © Joel Tesch.

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Mint Alumni Ackeem Salmon, artist, art teacher and so much more

Mint kicks off a series of Mint Alumni feature profiles. Look for one a month for at least nine months this year.

Ackeem Salmon has already achieved a lot – with awards, art activities and accolades in Detroit and internationally. He has much more in store this year and next.  Yet he acknowledges he’s never won a “proper photography competition” and he still needs to complete his teaching credentials.

Salmon joined Mint’s first cohort of Learn and Earn artists at the Palmer Park Art Fair in 2015 and participated in our first Scarab Club exhibit. He shared his art-directed photos such as Soul of the Arts, a creative grouping of classmates at Detroit School of Arts, and other striking images.

Ackeem Salmon’s momentous photo Soul of the Arts, from 2015.

In May 2020, he graduated from College for Creative Studies with a degree in photography and minor in fine art.  After gig work through the summer, he landed a job teaching art to elementary and middle students at Detroit Academy of Arts and Sciences, a private charter school.

Even before graduating from CCS, he had returned to Detroit School of Arts to mentor students and teach, and to work with them again on the Midtown Arts and Auto Festival.

“I come from a family of educators and people who are in academia,” Ackeem  said.  “So it kind of comes intuitively. I enjoy being a part of someone’s journey, to pay my experiences forward.”

“It’s sharing the excitement” of students succeeding, he said.

His photographs and mixed media pieces already are in many private collections – and likely to be in even more after his show at the gallery Collected Detroit in 2022.  This follows his one-artist show at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in 2016  and his 2018 project in Paris highlighting fashion, art and youth aspirations.

Yet Ackeem points out that he’s been turned down many times for artists calls, shows and awards. “I do feel the rejection and hurt” when that happens, he said.  And he also has seen the serendipity several times of judges or people involved recommending him to different projects. That’s how he came to join Mint, by submitting a poster to the Palmer Park Art Fair. When the judges realized he was in high school, they connected him with Mint.

He is a visual artist and art director – and a musician who plays violin and flute. He has performed music at a number of events, including some he organized. Ackeem has won the Pierians Foundation’s Jessie M. Colson Award is given to a deserving artist who exhibits high potential in their future practices. And he has collected art awards from the NAACP, Microsoft, Scholastic among others.

In coming months and years, he hopes to develop funding to return to Jamaica, to take more photographs and interview creative elders.  Several of his senior thesis photographs Remembering Yellow taken in his native Jamaica are on display in a window in Midtown Detroit.

Mint Alumni Ackeem Salmon at a collector’s private show, with Mint board member Margaret Wilson and others. (Photo: Vickie Elmer)

“I thought it a really cool opportunity for a kind of public art,” he said. Much of his work is autobiographical or looks deeply at what it means to be human and Black. He often serves as the art director for his photography and mixed media work.

Last year, Ackeem worked for DesignCore‘s Design in the City through a grant funded by Gucci Changemakers. His LinkedIn profile already shows many roles.

“I want to find a happy medium in making my own art work,” said Ackeem.  “I’m the little fish trying to find the island.”

Ackeem’s advice: Keep going after what you want, even if it takes a few attempts. “With Young Arts, I tried so many times. And that last time I got selected” as a finalist, he said.  So seek feedback and apply again.

His work: See some of it on his art Instagram Ackeem Salmon Art, or his artist website, which he created himself.

What’s next:  He is working on teaching credentials for art and French, and also still needs to get his driver’s license.  He also is painting and making new pieces for his next exhibits.