What if the answer to improving our community’s mental health and well-being was right in our backyards?

Nerissa Street, a multiple award-winning storyteller, thinks so.  She and a team of creative professionals are gathering what she calls new, wiser stories about historic Black neighborhoods and formerly redlined cities to amplify the beauty and value she sees there. Excerpts of the stories are in an art show called “Dwell: Art for a Black Utopia.”

What’s redlining? Between 1934 and 1968, predominantly nonwhite communities in major cities were subject to “redlining”, an FHA policy that devalued their homes and prevented mortgages in those communities from being insured. The practice prevented the value in their homes from increasing, and businesses didn’t want to move in, which blighted the neighborhoods.

“That blight that you see in your neighborhood becomes a story about your own possibility,” Street says. “The blight becomes mental.”

To combat that, Street is uncovering what she calls the “hidden utopia” by recording true stories about joy, play and well-being now experienced in Black neighborhoods across the country. The revelations about that and excerpts of the stories will be shared at the free 4th Annual Juneteenth for Joy Festival Saturday, June 17 at the 1310 Gallery in Fort Lauderdale. Acknowledging the deep connection Black families have historically had with the Christian faith, the art exhibition is called Dwell as inspired by scriptures from the 23rd and 91st Psalms:  “Because you have made the Lord your dwelling place, no evil shall be allowed to befall you, no plague come near your tent.” “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

“A utopia is a term meaning ‘an imagined or intentional perfect community possessing the qualities most desirable to its residents.’ It’s a green, healing space. But also, it’s the mindset. What do we need to do to create a utopia now?” Street also wants to create a digital archive of those stories, which would help change the online narrative of the neighborhoods.

The storytelling project was supported by the Artist Innovation grant from the Broward County Cultural Division, and support has been provided by the following Funds at the Community Foundation of Broward:  Helen and Frank Stoykov Charitable Endowment Fund, Louise and Rudi Dill Charitable Fund, and Mary and Alex Mackenzie Community Impact Fund. It is also a fiscally sponsored project of the Center for Social Change, so all support is tax-deductible.

“Joy is spontaneous, so the event is planned to delight and surprise. Juneteenth is a celebration of freedom – and in this case, I hope all people who don’t know about it feel welcome to join us and experience their own utopia.”

The event is free to the public and welcomes all ethnicities. For more information and to register, visit http://www.juneteenthforjoy.com

Dwell art exhibition: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/dwell-art-for-a-black-utopia-tickets-622638046157