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'Say Their Names' memorial exhibit honors Black lives lost due to injustice

The new exhibit is put on by the African-American Museum of Fine Arts and features 200 photos of Black people who have died due to racial violence or injustice.

SAN DIEGO — Outdoors and next to the Children’s Museum stands 50 pillars of pictures showcasing the names of Black people who lost their lives.

"All these people have died because of systemic racism or police brutality, and there are a lot,” said Gaidi Finnie, the Executive Director of the African-American Museum of Fine Arts.

Downtown at the Martin Luther King Jr. Promenade at West Island Avenue and Union Street, 200 black and white photos are stopping people in their tracks.

Jenny Espino, who was passing by the exhibit with her young son said, she recognized so many faces.

“I'm like wow, it does give me chills,” Espino said.

It's a difficult yet moving subject.

"I think there are a lot of people in the area, but people are kind of tiptoeing around this," said Alicia Pinn, visiting with her family from Northern California.

The "Say Their Names" Memorial Exhibit, put on by the San Diego African American Museum of Fine Arts, runs from July 10 through the July 25.

"We say their names because they cannot, they have paid the ultimate price. They can’t say their names, but we can,” Finnie said.

Finnie said the long list of names of Black people killed continues to grow with many recognizable faces from Emmett Till, the 14-year-old lynched in 1955 Mississippi, all the way up to 2020 with George Floyd in Minnesota.

"I was just over here at the Children's Museum, and I looked over and I saw the image of Breonna Taylor,” Espino said.

The artform can be simply interpreted as a memorial, a form of protest against racism, and as an educational and conversational piece.

“I think this is really beautiful and special. I was looking to see what date, so I can tell other people to come and check it out,” Espino said.

It is not just national names, but it pictures Alfred Olango shot and killed by police in El Cajon in 2016 and former NFL linebacker Demetrius DuBose, who was shot five times in the back by police in Pacific Beach in 1999.

"That was my 10-year-old’s question, did all these people die? And so I guess just the magnitude of that and how there is a picture on every side of the pillar,” Pinn said.

Finnie said first saw this traveling exhibit in Dallas and then in Portland, and due to the COVID-19 pandemic, he struggled finding a home for the exhibit in San Diego. The MLK Promenade is owned by the city but managed by the New Children's Museum. 

Finnie said there will be a partnership of kids' activities planned, including paper flowers and postcards with written messages for the memorial.

“It just brought tears. I mean I have been seeing it and working with it, but in person, it is very powerful. It is very moving, it is very sad, but it is hopeful because it exists,” Finnie said.

The exhibit officially opens Saturday at 11 a.m. at 200 W. Island Avenue with San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria and City Councilwoman Monica Montgomery-Steppes speaking. 

There will also be family members of loved ones featured in the memorial.

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