‘Because of Them We Can’ campaign creator honored by the White House

The "Because of Them We Can" coffee table book available online now. (Photo courtesy of Eunique Jones) The “Because of Them We Can” coffee table book available online now. (Photo courtesy of Eunique Jones)

She’s been to 1600 Penn (twice) and photographed a running list of luminaries (Duke Ellington, Angela Davis and Eric Holder), but Maryland-based photographer Eunique Jones Gibson never thought the Black History month campaign she started from her kitchen would be this huge. Last week Jones Gibson, whose photo project “Because of Them We Can” features children posing as African-American icons, was officially recognized by the White House as a “champion of change.” We caught up with the mother of two to chat about her new coffee table book and what comes next.

When you started “Because of Them” in 2013 was the coffee table book in the works?

There was never a plan for the campaign to become a book. It just kind of happened organically and that’s been the nature of the campaign thus far. People started to ask for something more permanent, to have all the photos in one location. It’s kind of hard to hang 365 in your house.

You kick off the book with the mini-version of the first couple fist-bumping one another.

That picture, for me, sets the tone of the entire book. What that image represents is the very idea that we wanted to promote throughout the campaign: that anything is possible. It’s the culmination of everything we worked for.

Photo courtesy of Eunique Jones Gibson. Photo courtesy of Eunique Jones Gibson.

How’d you choose who to include?It’s been a community effort. People we meet throughout our travels will say, “Hey you might want to include Thomas Mundy Peterson [the first African American to cast a vote under the 15th amendment].”

Where did the idea for “Because of Them We Can” come from?

I felt like there was an absence of positive images that uplifted African Americans, especially our children. I soon realized that I wasn’t the only one looking for something like this. In speaking to me the campaign has spoken to everyone else as well.

Last week the White House honored you as a “Champion of Change.” What was that like?

It was inspiring, and definitely reaffirming and reassuring. I didn’t get to meet the president, but I did meet his senior adviser Valerie Jarrett, the other champions and people who work in the administration every day. There are people still focusing on empowering our young people to be great.

What’s next for “Because of Them We Can”?

I see this campaign being inclusive of all kids and all hues. Now we’re at a point where we’re not just recognizing my kids or your kids but everyone’s kids.

Helena Andrews is the co-author of The Reliable Source. Follow her on Twitter @helena_andrews, and send your hot tips, sightings, and gossip to reliablesource@washpost.com.
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