Jevoid Simmons’ art can be seen at four different places this month.
His painting “The House at 1404 Christie Street,” which tells his family’s story moving North from Alabama during the Jim Crow era, was installed Tuesday in the window of the CoCo Design & Build Company at the corner of Dempster Street and Chicago Avenue.
His painting “Rest in Peace Rodney King,”which depicts the 1991 police beating of King in Los Angeles, can be seen starting Friday, Feb. 4, in an exhibition at the Noyes Second Floor Art Gallery, 927 Noyes St.
His painting “The Burial,” which shows white people giving up racism, supremacy and privilege, can be seen starting Saturday, Feb. 5, in an exhibition at the Devonshire Cultural Center in Skokie.
And paintings from his recently released book, “Up from Down Home, A Family’s Journey North,” are displayed online by Benedictine University.
It’s all part of Black History Month.
“My hope would be every month is Black History Month, every month is White History Month, focusing on what’s real, focusing on people making a difference,” Simmons says. “The pettiness that exists across race and ethnicity will destroy the country. And democracy is at peril as a result of this thinking. That’s where we’re at. It’s a somber situation.”
When he moved to the Chicago area, Simmons and his wife, Dickelle Fonda, considered three places to live: Oak Park, Hyde Park and Evanston. They chose Evanston primarily because of Lake Michigan.
Fonda, who is white, found an apartment for the couple in 1980, Simmons says. “When the owners saw me, they said, ‘The apartment has been rented. We made a mistake.’”
The couple ended up finding another apartment. Why didn’t that discourage Simmons from moving to Evanston? “There are a lot of places I wouldn’t be able to live if I let that stop me,” he says. “That’s something that will happen anywhere you go.”
Since then, Simmons and Fonda bought a house on the 1200 block of Darrow Avenue, where they have lived for more than three decades.
Simmons says his paintings are often based on what he calls the “soft” technique of folk artist Grandma Moses. “Her style tells a story and lends itself very well to what I do. Telling stories through art.”
But Simmons’ paintings on display this month are far from soft; each comments on social justice.
“I believe racism is alive in our country,” he says. Whites need to better understand the history of racism – or the country will not progress.
“When I call on white people to do that work, it’s not a condemnation,” Simmons says. “This is a loving call to make these needed changes. And it has to happen.”
He believes all types of art will play a role creating change. “Art is how we have always moved people,” Simmons says. “Art is the place that allows people to connect on a different level than just talking. It breaks down the barriers. Music, song, written words. Those have the ability to change people.”