Lindsay Heights resident Amerikus Luvene, 29, first thought the subject of her photos would be black love. But, recognizing the trauma and sadness she was feeling about the conditions black people face in this country, she decided instead to photograph her black reality.
A graduate of Rufus King High School, Luvene spent five years after high school living in Jacksonville, Florida, near her father. There, she endured the trauma of a gunshot wound to her thigh. She returned to Milwaukee about five years ago, moved into an apartment in Menomonee Falls and worked at Heiser selling cars.
But in August 2014, when Michael Brown was shot by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, Luvene awakened to the injustices being endured by African-Americans in this predominantly white society and began to explore her identity as a black woman.
“A little after Mike Brown was murdered was a moment of realization about how toxic our society is for black people,” Luvene said. “At the time, I was the only black person in my building in Menomonee Falls. I quit my job. I went to Ferguson. I went to Baltimore,” Luvene said.
She stopped working for a while, she said, because she realized she had been brainwashed to fit in with white society and she needed to separate herself. “I cut my hair and became a new person,” Luvene said.
Wearing her hair naturally, Luvene observed, “When black people identify with their black selves, they are seen as a threat.”
What Luvene would like people to understand from her photo gallery is “the forever struggle of blacks fighting for justice, being murdered by police, having to fight the system and having to fight (among) ourselves.”
“I’m a walking example of the condition of black people in this country. On my block there are five boarded-up homes, prostitution rings, shootings, kicked in doors. It’s like a war zone.”
Describing her feelings of pain, hurt, anger and sadness as a form of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), Luvene added, “Sometimes it feels like there is no hope but every day you have to get up and fight. We have to continue to speak life to people who are emotionally and mentally dead. I try to distract myself from what really is going on but the distraction doesn’t last that long.”
Luvene said she internalized self-hatred by imitating white society. “I never knew who I was or where I came from. I got rid of that way of thinking by separating myself from white culture.“
Needing money to live, Luvene recently took a job at an auto dealership where her boss is a black man who she described as “very knowledgeable about our struggle.” With his help, she has learned that gaining economic literacy and power is part of the fight.