Collection Explore
Essay
Kelli Johnson
on Isaac Scott
A black and white photograph of a young, black girl dancing surrounded by a circle of people looking on and cheering.
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Isaac Scott (born Quincy, Illinois, 1990)
June 6th, 2020. Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2020
archival pigment print
The Jack Shear Collection of Photography at the Tang Teaching Museum
2020.33.5

Kelli Johnson
Director, Opportunity Program
Skidmore College

It is no coincidence I am writing this essay on January 20, 2021. It is no coincidence this photograph by Isaac Scott, which he took on June 6, 2020, what he called “a historic day,” speaks to me in such a powerful way. Both the inauguration of Joseph R. Biden and the photograph express hope and change. The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement is nothing new. Black folks have been protesting and demonstrating for more than a century. Our very existence in this country was built on policies engrained in systemic racism that has affected every aspect of our lives. That entire premise, of needing to demolish engrained racist policies, is daunting and tiring. Civil disobedience is our cry for help, seemingly the only time our voices are heard. But it is not because we are silent. We are and have been speaking. It just seems our screams are the only thing that other folks will to recognize. Now, with the help of social media and smartphones, our cries are being lifted to new platforms. Folks are listening. They are watching. They are joining. And even in the painstaking work of peaceful demonstration, there are rays of hope. Here, we can see that hope in the break dancing of a young person.

When first viewing this photograph, I was immediately drawn to the dancer, the star. She appears to be concentrating on her craft. Her long and flowing cornrows caress her partially covered face, giving her street cred to the onlookers. But the shadow below her has a life of its own. It is strong, steady, and unstoppable, much like the movement itself. But Scott is training our eyes to look beyond her and scan the audience. There we see folks of all ages, some masked, most intently studying her movements. Their eyes follow her every move. These are looks of pride. Folks smile with their eyes, and it is within those piercing, smiling stares that I can see and feel hope. While I am not sure if this is hope for the performer, hope for a breakthrough in our country’s climate, or both, hope is evident. And while the crowd is gathered in support, I cannot help but recognize the barrier of safety they have enclosed around the dancer. They are protecting her. It has always been the role of the Black community to protect our own, from infiltrators and for childhood innocence. It is simply amazing that Scott can capture this vital aspect of the Black narrative in one shot.

As I watch the inauguration of the Biden-Harris Administration, I cannot help but smile. I am quite sure the same look of hope in the eyes of the break dancer’s audience can be seen in mine. And it is this hope that allows me to keep moving forward. Am I tired? Of course! Will there be more incidents in which we need to protest? Of course! We are a country that does not learn from our mistakes and Black Lives Matter will be there to lead the way. But today, I let hope lead my thoughts. And as the great poet and performer Kendrick Lamar says, “We gon’ be alright.”

Cite this page

Johnson, Kelli. “Kelli Johnson on Isaac Scott.” Tang Teaching Museum collections website. Last modified January 27, 2021. https://tang.skidmore.edu/collection/explore/256-kelli-johnson-on.

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