Art has always been a key piece in the rich storytelling of the Black experience. UMOJA and Ashro met back in 2021 and they discussed ways to partner in support of the Black community. Then a great opportunity presented itself: to seek out and celebrate artistic expression during a time that’s been wrought with emotion and upheaval. It was against this backdrop that The Onward & Upward Artist Showcase was born.

UMOJA and Ashro saw this contest as a powerful way to celebrate Black heritage and culture…and to reach out to artists, aspiring or established, who have something important to say. The winning artists and their work are featured below along with some other stellar entries. Congratulations to one and all!

Joseph Randall

Chicago, Illinois
Although Althea Gibson, Leslie Allen and Zina Garrison inspired this painting, it is the William sister’s revolutionary tennis court success that evolved a crop of fearless players that exemplify the spirit of Althea. So, this painting is a celebration to Serena Williams, Venus Williams, Sloan Stephens, Madison Keys, Naomi Osaka, Taylor Townsend and Coco Gauff…I call it, “Magnificent 7!”

Born and raised in New York, Joseph Randall began his advertising career at the Manhattan- based McCaffrey & McCall agency.  He worked in the “bull- pen” putting together ads and storyboards by day, and studying at The School of Visual Arts at night.

During his seven years there, Randall imbibed the spirit of McCaffrey & McCall and became an art director, working on accounts such as Hartford Insurance, Pfizer’s Ben-Gay and St. Joseph’s products (aspirin and cough syrup), and Norelco Products (Cassettes, Coffee Makers and Electric Shavers). A respected agency known for its ethical outspokenness and creative risk-taking, McCaffrey & McCall advocated for various social causes. For example, it developed “Schoolhouse Rock,” a children’s animated educational TV series. It also joined other New York agencies to create ads for an “Unsell the War” campaign which opposed the war in Vietnam.

His talent nurtured and affirmed by McCaffrey & McCall, Randall eventually branched out to work for some of the country’s other notable ad agencies, including Grey New York, Leo Burnett Chicago, Young & Rubicam New York, Young & Rubicam Chicago and  Burrell Communications, Chicago.

Over the years Randall has received numerous honors, including ClioAwards, Art Director’s Club Award, Art Direction Magazine Award, CEBA  Awards, The U.S. Television Commercials Festival Awards and The One Show Awards.  These kudos from industry peers acknowledged his ability to repeatedly develop successful sales-effective creative positioning of brands in various product categories.

He demonstrated this when he created campaigns that boasted “A ‘Gotcha!’ moment for Norelco”; celebrated “A Mind Growing…” career in the U.S. Navy”; serenaded the ‘Street Song’ you drink  in a bottle of Coca Cola; promised “that Breed Apart” prosperity symbolized by the Merrill Lynch bull; styled “A Range of Options” offered by upscale Jenn-Air kitchen appliance systems; and globally shared “Nature’s Secret To  Healthy Hair” in ORS Olive Oil products by Namaste Laboratories.

Linda Massey

Cottage Grove, Wisconsin
Inspiration: I am so excited about “Make Your Own Wings” as I think it REALLY says everything about the theme of Imagine the Future! A young girl sees herself in flight and the places she’ll go on wings of her own making!

Terrin Sharp

Chicago, Illinois
Inspiration: I think about how the women before me paved the way for me to have the opportunities that I have today. Strong black beautiful women! This inspired me to do a piece in honor of all those who came before me. Depicted in this image are woman who have changed the game for black woman in many roles and professions. Woman like Wilma Rudolph, Hattie McDaniel, Aretha Franklin, Billie Holiday, Angie Davis, Nina Simone, Missy Elliot, and many more who made a brighter future for beautiful black women.

Charles Payne 

Madison, Wisconsin
Inspiration: I was inspired by the Time (is): An Exploration of Black Art in Madison exhibit. The exhibit highlights the works of four Black Madison-based artists who explore creating portraits through visual, performance, and conceptual art practices. Their works capture moments in Time, the passing of Time, and its intangibility. It was admirable to explore these four artists’ unique lens and their individual curated book lists that anchored their narratives and creative practices.

Elina Lagrone

Madison, Wisconsin
Inspiration: I enjoy doing abstract pieces and African art and I thought I would try to combine the two and I call it Afrocentric abstract painting. Overall I just enjoy painting and drawing especially pieces that reflect people of color.