In recognition of Juneteenth, a new photography exhibition titled "The Wellness Keepers" celebrates local Black physicians. It opens Thursday at The Enterprise Conference and Event Center in Winston-Salem.

Mounted on brightly painted interior brick walls stand 15 large, color portraits. The subjects are African American physicians, men and women, dressed in white lab coats, each beaming at the viewer with broad, comfortable smiles.

The initial viewer was photographer and visual artist Owens Daniels, whose rapport with his subjects becomes apparent from the moment you step into the modest room.

Standing in front of his portrait of Concord cardiologist Dr. Elijah Beaty, Daniels says when he was first approached by Triad Cultural Arts about the project, he had no idea the profound impact it would have.

"At the time that I took his picture I had really, really, really high blood," says Daniels. "And I didn’t know how bad my situation was until I met him and he talked to me about the symptoms of high blood pressure and hypertension. And I had all of this going on while I was taking his picture, and he looked at me and said, ‘You need to see a doctor.’"

Daniels says that education literally saved his life. And he’s looking forward to passing along lessons like this one, particularly, he says, to African Americans like him who have grown up with a healthy dose of skepticism about doctors.

Daniels says through its tortured racial history — whites-only hospitals, unequal care, forced sterilization programs — many in the Black community continue to rely on home remedies and in-house treatments over a doctor’s visit.

He says Winston-Salem family doctor Brenda Latham-Sadler, whom he also photographed, set him straight.

"She was the one who explained to me you can see a doctor," he says. "My father didn’t see a doctor. His father didn’t see a doctor. When I grew up as an adult male I didn’t see a doctor. You know, I taught my son to be afraid of a doctor. And she really exposed in me the fear of seeing a doctor and it became okay with me."

Daniels calls Black professionals like Latham-Sadler, and Beaty, compressed power: the drive and passion that he feels in his own work, combined with the very fact of their extraordinary success. He hopes that their stories and these portraits inspire others as well.

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