City News

Human rights artist Todd Drake visits UNCC

Todd Drake’s work is on exhibit at UNC Charlotte through April.
Todd Drake’s work is on exhibit at UNC Charlotte through April. COURTESY OF TODD DRAKE

Todd Drake is a human rights artist. His project titled “Just Us: Breaking Boundaries with Images” is on exhibit at the UNC Charlotte student union and at UNC Charlotte Center City.

Drake will be in Charlotte March 10-11 to conduct a free lecture and a free photography workshop. He also will judge a selfie contest, which involves contestants taking a selfie in front of one of the images at his exhibits.

The North Carolina native has traveled internationally and exhibited his work at colleges and museums across the United States. He is also an author and illustrator.

With his degree in biology from UNC-Chapel Hill, Drake entered medical school. After two years, he left Wake Forest medical school to pursue his passion for art. He earned a Masters in Fine Arts at UNC Greensboro in painting.

Drake’s other passion was to volunteer. He has worked with the Montagnard community, he initiated a picture ID program across the state and currently teaches at North Carolina A&T State University.

Over time, his artistry branched out to digital photography.

“It was my wife who encouraged me to combine my art and my people skills,” he said.

Drake’s Charlotte project was a collective endeavor that involved professors and departments at UNCC. In the fall of 2013, Sandra Dika, assistant professor of research methods, Lisa Merriweather, assistant professor of adult education, and Min Jiang, associate professor in the communications department, met Drake at an event hosted by the Divan Center in Charlotte.

“We were inspired by his ideas around social justice … and how he was able to help young people look at equality and justice and what they want our world to look like,” Lisa Merriweather said.

The three professors, along with Jane Dalton, worked with Drake to bring his project to UNCC.

“We thought it could help break down barriers on campus as well as in the community. We need to break down all sorts of walls. Art is the medium to do that,“ Merriweather said.

She and Dika got the Chancellor’s Diversity Challenge Grant.

“Our big hope is that ‘Just Us – Breaking Boundaries with Images’ will stimulate different thinking and a change of heart,” Merriweather said.

The UNCC Student Union exhibit includes portraits of Muslim-Americans, undocumented immigrants and Syrian refugees.

“This exhibit includes a portrait of Tamir, a Charlotte resident and local imam wearing a Superman shirt to emphasize that his religion taught him to love all and serve all,” Drake said.

The UNCC Center City exhibit includes portraits of Muslim-Americans and a selection of Drake’s work in Palestine. It includes a picture of the Cyclones, an all-female Muslim basketball team in Charlotte).

“We learn through stories and pictures and we learn to fear less,” Drake said. “It’s a lessening of perceived differences.”

Before his lecture on March 10 and photography workshop on March 11, Drake will attend artist receptions.

“The goal of the photography workshop is to help people take better photos, tell better stories and initiate change,” he said.

The selfie contest is open to students and the community.

“I hope people understand this project isn’t me coming in with all of the answers, but it’s a time to share and learn more about issues around diversity,” he said. “Hopefully my art forces us to think and see through others eyes.”

Charlene Price-Patterson is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Charlene? Contact her at

Want to go?

Todd Drake’s lecture at UNCC Center City will be held 7 p.m. March 10. There will be a 6:30 p.m. reception. The exhibit will be on display through April 13.

There will be a free artist workshop at 7 p.m. March 11. Details: Lisa Merriweather at 704-687-8740 or