Sylvester “Duke” Givens
Duke Givens has been working on his exhibit “Power of Choice” for over 25 years. In February of 2019, he brought it to the LAC campus of LBCC.
A Long Beach native, Givens went to Long Beach Poly High School in the mid-80s, and notably during the height of Long Beach’s gang and drug epidemics. “I grew up with a lot of talented people, but so many of them lost their way and succumbed to the logic of violence. Young men creating philosophies through violence, killing themselves, killing each other. How can you learn when you’re in such a hostile environment? How can you focus on Math or English when you’re always looking over your shoulder?”
“I grew up with a lot of talented people, but so many of them lost their way and succumbed to the logic of violence. Young men creating philosophies through violence, killing themselves, killing each other. How can you learn when you’re in such a hostile environment? How can you focus on Math or English when you’re always looking over your shoulder?”
In 1989, Givens joined the United States Air Force, serving in Desert Storm before being honorably discharged in 1993. His return to Long Beach saw two events that would change the direction of Givens’ life: a new school and a new camera. In the Fall of 1993, he enrolled in LBCC at the Pacific Coast Campus to begin his college education. During this same time period, his mother gave him a Canon AE-1 Program camera – his first camera, and the first step towards his life-long love affair with photography. “LBCC saved my life with photography. When life gets hard, I can push onward and upward through creativity. In my first semester, I took Black and White Photography 101 with Mickey Wilson. He and Neil Frances opened up the world of photography to me and it came alive for me and exploded in my heart. I fell in love with it.”
After LBCC, he created his calendar piece, ‘Stop Gang Violence.’ “It serves as a yearbook, an obituary for the ‘hood at that time. I had something very powerful, but to be honest, it was a financial disaster. My designer and editor sent thousands of errors to print and that initial run didn’t go the way I envisioned it.” So Givens began working for Long Beach Transit mopping buses to pay off his investors. He then became a driver and moved into training drivers. He retired in 2016 and has been pursuing photography full-time since then.
“Power of Choice” combines the photographs of Long Beach’s East Side neighborhood gang members during the early 1990s with images of prominent and successful black Long Beach residents, some of whom grew up in the same neighborhood around Long Beach Poly as his earlier subjects, showing his viewers the power that choice can have in shaping individual lives.
“To have my exhibit on display at LBCC? This place…it’s more than a school. It’s a city – a metropolis of culture and diversity with incredible teachers inspiring generations to be the forward thinkers of tomorrow. I’m proud and honored that they allowed my work to grace the halls of this amazing institution. I’m looking forward to a life-long relationship with my amazing alma-mater.”
Click Here to see Duke’s interview about his exhibit “Power of Choice” with Long Beach Local News’ Melissa Orozco.