Who’s your hero?

Museum exhibit honors everyday people

by Josh Whitener

Aura Main submitted this photo featuring James McLelland, 12, of Matthews, to the Silent Heroes project. McLelland created and organized a fundraising walk for the nonprofit Habitat for Humanity of Matthews in May. Photo courtesy
of Aura Main

Five years ago, Silent Images founder David Johnson had an idea: use photography and videography to be a voice for the voiceless around the world. Earlier this year, he had another thought: Why not use the same tactic to honor “heroes” in the community who may never get the recognition they deserve?

The project, dubbed Silent Heroes, launched this spring, asking area residents to submit photos and stories of unsung local heroes.

Those people and their selfless acts are on display through a Silent Heroes exhibit at the Levine Museum of the New South, 200 E. 7th St., in Charlotte. The exhibit features photographs and stories of “heroes” – police officers, firefighters, teachers, disability camp counselors, bus drivers and ordinary children with an extraordinary vision – who have touched the lives of others around them.

“The goal of the exhibit is to change the conversation of our culture,” Johnson said. “The reality is there’s so many awesome people who make our community a great place to live in, and that’s what the conversation should be about.”

The organization Silent Images uses professional photography and videography to capture still and video images used to share stories of hope in the face of adversities, such as oppression, persecution and poverty. But Johnson decided to take a different approach for Silent Heroes and encouraged everyday citizens to grab their camera and capture and submit an image of their “hero.”

“We wanted to challenge the city to go beyond the headlines and see that there are so many awesome, encouraging stories,” Johnson told South Charlotte Weekly in March, at the start of the project. “Just simple actions with extraordinary impact on communities.”

By the June 1 submission deadline, Johnson had received about 110 submissions from all over the area, including one from Mint Hill resident Aura Main. Main heard Johnson give a presentation about Silent Heroes at the Matthews Library, where she works, and began thinking about who she could submit as her “Silent Hero.”

Main got involved with the nonprofit Habitat for Humanity of Matthews through her job at the library when she was introduced to James McLelland, the 12-year-old Boy Scout who organized Habi-thon – a walk to raise money for Matthews Habitat – in May. After meeting the rising Mint Hill Middle eighth-grader and seeing his dedication to the Habi-thon, Main knew he was the right choice for her silent hero.

“I thought about who I could feature and when I heard James talk during the walk, I knew he was the one,” Main said. “He had a vision to do (the Habi-thon) and it really did happen. He’s really an amazing young man.”

James is just one of dozens of Silent Heroes who will have their photographs and stories displayed at the Levine Museum. The exhibit consists of six walls featuring more than 80 photographs and anecdotes, a video and a special display bearing information about the project. The museum will host the exhibit through mid-October – in time for the Democratic National Convention.

“At this time in our nation, we have some really divisive conversation, and I don’t think that represents what makes our neighborhood and our community so great,” Johnson said.

Johnson hopes the exhibit will not only represent Charlotte well, but that it will spark a revolution where the city, surrounding communities and others can shed the “negative perception” of today’s society and, therefore, bring about true change.

“We would hope that as people are talking about our communities’ heroes, it will inspire others to act that way,” he said. “We hope it does at least change a little bit of the heartbeat of our city.”

Want to go?

The Silent Images exhibit “Silent Heroes” is on display at the Levine Museum of the New South, 200 E. Seventh St., in Charlotte through mid-October. Admission is $8 for adults and $6 for students and seniors ages 62 and older.

For information, visit www.museumofthenewsouth.org or call 704-333-1887.

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