The Colley Foundation

Colley Family Personal Statement

Our family – Katie, Reed, Jake (age 11), Olivia (age 9), Noah and Zoe (twins, age 6) – is deeply honored to be partnering with the Cummer Museum to bring the James Weldon Johnson LIFT exhibition to our beloved hometown of Jacksonville. You might be wondering… what inspired this family to sponsor an exhibition targeted to reveal ongoing structural racism? The answer is simple – the love we have for our children. We are the proud parents of four dynamic, funny, thoughtful, and (if we do say so ourselves) beautiful children. Our youngest two children – Noah and Zoe – are African American, and being their parents has been the most transformative experience so far in our lives. They have brought more joy to our lives than we could possibly share within one page! We are better people because we are their mom and dad.

We also love this city. We have long‐time roots in Jacksonville (our children are fifth generation) and want to be part of ensuring our city is a tolerant and compassionate place to raise all children. As white parents to Noah and Zoe, our own eyes have been opened to how their journey through life is so different than Jake and Olivia and our own. When my white son can feel safe walking down the street in a hoodie and my black son might not, when strangers touch our black daughter’s curly hair, when we read statistics about how our black children have a lower life expectancy than our white children… as parents, we simply cannot ignore the need for more conversation and understanding around race relations. We hope to use our voices to help other people understand how Noah and Zoe and all children of color are blessings to be celebrated… who will grow into adults whom we should all be honored to call friends and colleagues.

Being a multi‐racial family will be a life‐long journey for us, and we are only at the beginning. We do not have answers on how to end structural racism or how to ensure that both of our sons feel safe walking down the street… but we do know that nothing of great importance can be accomplished without honest conversations. We know it is uncomfortable to talk about racism, so we wanted to bring the power of the arts into this dialogue. We believe that art has the ability to shift people’s perspectives without using any words. We believe the arts serve as a powerful mirror, reflecting what is happening in society, and it can influence us all to make changes for the better.

Before we collaborated with the Cummer to plan and implement this exhibition, James Weldon Johnson and his iconic song, Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing, were unfamiliar to our deeply-rooted Jacksonville family and us. We reflected on how unfortunate it is that Mr. Johnson, one of our city’s most accomplished and influential sons, is a virtual unknown to the vast majority of our city. We are now proud to tell our children about the successes and struggles of James Weldon Johnson, proud to share with them that his poem, Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing, is an iconic emblem for African Americans, and proud to tell them that he was born and raised in the city we call home. Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing asks us to “sing a song full of hope” yet still “march on till victory is won.” This message is as relevant in 2016 as it was in 1899, when Mr. Johnson first wrote these lyrics. We are honored to stand alongside the Museum to celebrate James Weldon Johnson and ask the simple question: How far have we come?