Diversity photo project represents the underrepresented

Apr 26, 2022

When Rhonda Baptiste gathered her family for a portrait to participate in Tri-Town Against Racism’s Diversity Photo Project, she said that she had not yet realized the extent of what she was doing.

“I didn’t think about the fact that I was going to be part of something bigger than that photograph.”

She says that the results changed her perspective. For Baptiste, seeing portraits of 20 different and diverse families hanging on the walls of the Mattapoisett Museum was “beautiful.”

The exhibit encapsulates many different families, including LGBTQA+ representation, families of color, biracial families and families that were united through adoption. Among those represented are families from Marion, Mattapoisett, Rochester, Carver, Falmouth, Plymouth and New Bedford.

Baptiste, who lives in Rochester, has had a different experience than many families in her community, raising her biracial son.

“For my son to see families that look like ours was pretty important,” said Baptiste.

She admits that her first response to being part of the project wasn’t complete enthusiasm.

“I had some trepidation,” she said.

Baptiste is an active member of Tri-Town Against Racism, the advocacy group that organized the exhibit with the Mattapoisett Museum. She explained that after a fundraising project with the group, she became a target of online harassment and received racist messages.

“Doing these projects puts that information out there for those types of people to find you,” she said, adding that it took courage for every family involved in the portrait project.

“This is something that shouldn’t be brave, but it is.”

Alison Noyce, another member of Tri-Town Against Racism who was photographed with her family for the project, said that it was an honor to the group that people were so willing to participate in the project.

The idea for the exhibit came up after members of Tri-Town Against Racism were connected with Bev Baccelli and Liz DiCarlo of the South Coast LGBTQ+ Network.

Baccelli and DiCarlo mentioned a portrait project they were part of in the 1990s, which was all about families and what that meant for same-sex couples.

The conversation then started about doing something similar with diverse families in the community. Photographer Maggie Howland overheard and said she would be “so down for that.”

After that, the project “just came together,” said Baptiste. “We have some really cool families in our community, they were so open and gracious.”

Another photographer, Janelle LaPointe, volunteered and Jessica DeCicco-Carey from the Mattapoisett Museum came on board to help curate the exhibit.

“We could not have done this without [Jessica], she donated so much time and expertise,” said Baptiste.

Noyce said that the experience was personally impactful for her.

Noyce, who was adopted, has raised two biological daughters, who are white, and two black sons, who are adopted.

“It was really powerful for me to see so many other families were brought together through adoption,” she said.

She pointed out one of the quotes underneath the portraits: “Sometimes you get to choose your family.”

Noyce also commented that something impactful about the project is that “we are celebrating diversity in a community that is not incredibly diverse.”

As part of her research for the exhibit, DeCicco-Carey looked into statistics surrounding diversity in the local community. In her research, she discovered that 86% of Plymouth County is white.

“And in Mattapoisett, only 3% of people are not white,” she added. “I hope seeing those statistics makes people understand there’s a bigger picture here.”

The portraits will become part of the museum’s permanent collection, though Baptiste says her dream is to make this an annual event where they can re-photograph the families and add more. She would also like to make it a traveling exhibit that can be installed in schools in the area.

The exhibit’s opening reception will take place on Tuesday, April 26, and has more than 60 people signed up to attend, making it the museum’s largest event since the start of the pandemic. The portraits will stay up at the museum through May 31.