Funds from the Rochester Area Community Foundation create new digital archive in the Department of Rare Books, Special Collection, and Preservation.
Author: Matthew Cook
Black and white photo of a protest with prominent "Black Lives Matter" and "Abolish the Police" posters

It’s a Saturday, a couple of weeks after a police officer in Minneapolis, Minnesota, murdered George Floyd. Rochester-area residents are gathered at Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Park for a Black Lives Matter (BLM) protest.

Emotions run the gamut.

People are sad, angry, and overwhelmed. They feel disappointed in society and disgusted with the system. But they also feel hopeful and excited because they are surrounded by many others who are fed up with the status quo and eager for change.

That was almost three years ago, but people can go back to that moment and visit its energy because it was preserved by filmmaker, artist, and activist Rashaad Parker.

In ROC City Speaks, a 17-minute series of on-the-street video interviews, Parker captures how people were coping with racial injustice against the Black community amid the COVID-19 pandemic. A year later, he released a similarly shot short documentary, Black Lives Matter: A Sanctuary for Daniel Prude.

Now, a grant from the Rochester Area Community Foundation will make both videos part of a new digital archive at the University of Rochester.

The Department of Rare Books, Special Collections, and Preservation (RBSCP) will house the content captured in 2020 by Parker and several other artists from the Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) community. Over the next two years, Miranda Mims, the Joseph N. Lambert and Harold B. Schleifer Director of RBSCP, and Jessica Lacher-Feldman, the exhibitions and special projects manager for RBSCP, will work with Parker to add to the archive and make it assessable. They will also use it to create public art, exhibitions, and programming intended to initiate conversations in the Rochester community about race relations, police brutality, mental health, public safety, and change movements.

“Social justice is not just about organizing around legislative and political action,” Mims says. “It’s also the documentation of civic advocacy, protests, and community action. Our partnership with Rashaad exemplifies how libraries and community organizations can work together to preserve our shared experiences by archiving them and making them accessible.”

Parker holds a master’s degree in fine arts from the Visual Studies Workshop in Rochester. He is currently the community outreach manager for Flower City Arts Center, a community-based nonprofit in Rochester that educates, encourages, and inspires people to create and enjoy the visual arts.

But above all, he’s an artist.

As a Black man who has witnessed and been subjected to police violence, Parker’s artistic work focuses on civil rights and social justice activities in Rochester. He is committed to telling the unabridged stories of those who entrust him with their voices and perspectives.

“I believe I am a bridge that connects the previous generations, my generation, and the generations to come,” Parker says. “This archival work with the University of Rochester represents my lifelong commitment to documenting the voices of people who speak up in support of social justice movements and their potential to affect change worldwide.”

RBSCP, meanwhile, is committed to creating opportunities for those like Parker who contribute to building awareness and understanding of social justice movements in Greater Rochester during the 20th and 21st centuries. An example of this will take place later this month.

On February 22, RBSCP will present Archiving the Black Lives Matter Movement: A Conversation with Rashaad Parker. The event will be held at the Barbara J. Burger iZone in Rush Rhees Library and feature a screening of ROC City Speaks followed by a conversation and Q&A with Parker.

The event is free and open to the public. ∎

Photo credit: Rashaad Parker. For more information on RBSCP’s new digital archive, contact

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