We extend our heartfelt gratitude to each artist who has contributed to the Norfolk Botanical Garden’s Diversity Gallery, a remarkable showcase of talent and creativity. Your unique perspectives and artistic expressions have played a crucial role in fostering a sense of inclusivity and diversity within our community. We encourage all to visit and appreciate the incredible contributions of these talented artists, as together, we continue to promote unity and appreciation for others. Thank you for being a part of this meaningful initiative.

Derak Green
I am Derak Green, a 59 year old African American Home Chef and part time artist. I am a self taught artist who has been painting in acrylic for about 3 years. painting is one of my favorite creative outlets.
Ken Wright, Sr. 
See the movement, here the melody, and feel the emotion. This is my desire that people will have when viewing my work. Although I have had much success and honors for my work, it was not all an easy journey, but, through hard and continuous work, you will succeed. My father always told me to press on to my dream, and let no one shake my tree, or discourage me. Through it all, a Richmond, Virginia native, and a graduate of Norfolk State University with a BFA in graphics and fine art. An abstract painter with numerous awards and honors for my work. I am very blessed to have works in collections across the U.S. Presidents, George W. Bush, and most recently President Barack Obama, both pieces hung in the White House. Other collectors include to name a few, Bismark Myrick, former Ambassador to Liberia West Africa; the estate of deceased actress Eartha Kitt, and actress Tatiana Ali. Exhibited on Capital Hill Washington, D.C. in the office of U.S. Senator Mark Warner. I am a former Arts Commissioner for the State of Virginia, appointed then by former governor of Virginia Doug Wilder. During my career, served on many arts committees and boards. My studio is located in the d’Art Center in Norfolk, Virginia, where am the longest residing artist for 30+ years. I am married to the former Simonetta Haley, and together we have two adult children, Ken Jr. and Shelly. We have five grand children, Brandon, Ken III, Kristopher, Chele’ and Noah, and two great grandsons, Brandon Jr., and Avery. Thank you for letting me share a portion of my story with you.
Taniiah Lewis (2001- April 28th, 2024) We are profoundly saddened by the loss of Taniiah and her incredible talent. Our thoughts are with her family and loved ones during this incredibly challenging time.
TheyungTEA: Teaching Enlightenment & Awareness. Utilizing all elements, I aspire to change the narrative behind how we see ourselves and showcase the connection between us all and the earth itself as we all are “Children of God” making us Gods and Goddesses in the flesh. And they say the closest thing to God is creation, which is why everything I create is intended to invoke and inspire.
Christopher Green
Chris Green is a Fine Artist who paints the totality of the Black experience, from his home studio in Norfolk, VA. From our struggles to our triumphs to everything in between, Green uses vibrant colors to illustrate our people in a beautiful way. He has made significant lifelong contributions to the Hampton Roads area by painting various murals on storefronts as well as showcasing his work in numerous exhibitions, enriching our communities with his captivating art.
Briana Ariel
Briana Ariel is a multidisciplinary artist and author. She is an all-around creative and uses her various styles of artistic expression to encourage women and girls to thrive! Her message is one of hope, courage, and positive self-talk. Through her art, she hopes viewers see themselves as strong, beautiful, more than enough, highly capable, and deeply loved.
Martha Williams
Local amateur artist who enjoys all things in nature especially gardens. Most of my art is of the oil medium. Landscapes are my favorite. I enjoy photographing a scene and painting it. Painting for me is both relaxing and challenging. It is the perfect act after retirement having served over 35 years as an educator.
Elijah Muhammad
My name is Elijah Muhammad but I go by Eli Saddiq. I am 28 years old and I’m from Gainesville, FL. I’m an Architectural Designer in Virginia Beach but have always done art in my free time since I was a young child. I enjoy creative expression in any form and I also dabble in music, creative writing, 3d modeling, comic book illustration, etc., etc. Recently, I’ve been trying to increase my artist visibility locally and would love this opportunity to do so.
Tracey Owens
I’m an Army Veteran of 39 years. While in the Army I received a AAS in Graphic Arts and a Bachelor degree in Business. I started my art venture in photography but I began following an actress/artist I became interested in abstract oil painting. I began teaching myself different techniques. After retiring l wanted widen my art skill so I started taking pottery classes. While in pottery class I found that my pottery and painting started representing more of an ethnic theme or something that has happened in the world.
Michaela Newby
My name is Michaela Newby, I’m 27 years old & currently reside in Ghent, Norfolk. I graduated from Radford University in 2019 with a Bachelor’s degree in studio art and a minor in peace studies. I work as an artist at Muse Paint-bar in Virginia Beach.
Tyra Billey 
Empress Ty; born Tyra Billey is a 23 year old Guyanese American woman born in Brooklyn, NY. Tyra is currently residing in the Hampton Roads area after receiving her BFA from Hampton University. Tyra’s passion for art came in her adolescence where she would draw her favorite music artists. Tyra’s body of work has since developed to include portraits of prominent African American figures, surreal art, and composite styles all meant to evoke feelings of nostalgia, belonging, and relatability in the black community.
While living on Maui (1996-2013); Ukwensi immersed himself in the local contemporary art scene by representing art at popular galleries in Lahaina and Wailea. By the urging of gallery owners, artists, and close family, Ukwensi moved from Maui and back to Virginia and eventually opened his award winning gallery “Gallerie Ukwensi” on April 20th,2018 in the heart of Ghent in Norfolk showcasing his art and some of the top contemporary artists from Hampton Roads. HIS ART: Living his life by the Ancient Greek philosophy of “Gnothi Seauton” -Know Thyself’, Ukwensi’s art is Inspired by the spiritual connection he has with the Universe. His paintings or “My Windows to Your Imagination”as he calls it, are created on canvas with a mixture of powdered pigments, enamels, glass, and controlled movement. His hope is for every viewer to use their imagination and see what they see is true to their experience with each piece….a connection with spirit itself.
Orgia Labidi
Orgia “Gia” Labidi is an award winning, self-taught artist influenced by her African heritage and her reverence for the divine feminine energy expressed in nature. Working in various visual mediums including clay, wood, paper and found objects, Labidi relies on intuition to ground her work in nature, humanity and the indigenous experience. Labidi’s work has been exhibited nationally and internationally for over 15 years. Pieces are included in Old Dominion University’s permanent collection, Gyeongju Art Center North Gyeongsang Province, South Korea and private collections nationwide.
Debby Freeman
Local artist.
Riel Gustave
Riel Gustave (b.1995; Hollywood, FL) is an illustrator and pop-artist raised in and residing in Virginia. Their work synthesizes the Artists’ memories of childhood pop-culture media with a modern, super saturated approach and design, which establishes work that invokes a feeling of false-nostalgia.
Hi I go by the name of Crespo and I’m a painter. I have always been creative from a young age but I am a self-taught artist. I live in Virginia Beach and I have been painting for about ten years. I have participated in numerous exhibitions in Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey (also under the pseudonym “Morgan”) and Virginia Beach. I previously served as gallery coordinator for the Pocono Arts Council for two years, and have co-curated several group art exhibitions at the 1199SEIU Bread and Roses Gallery in NYC.
Ray Johnson
Ray Johnson (b. 1985) is a contemporary art painter based in Hampton Roads, VA. Although he studied illustration at Savannah College of Art and Design, he is an self taught painter. His art primarily uses figures to provide representation of black beauty, strength and perseverance. Johnson has participated in many solo and group exhibitions locally and regionally. He has exhibited at Barry Art Museum and at the Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art, winning the people choice award for best painting in the Made in VA exhibit. Recently Ray took part in the Newport News Street Museum Mural Festival (2023). He currently serves on the Ocean View Plein Air Society Public Art Planning Committee.
Ralph Thomas
Ralph C. Thomas is an accomplished oil painter whose captivating folk art style delves into the rich tapestry of black experiences. Raised in the vibrant neighborhood of “the South Side” in Durham, his artistic journey began at a young age when his mother gifted him a paint by numbers set during a visit to Detroit. From that moment, Thomas’ passion for painting flourished and he honed his skills by creating vivid renditions of Walt Disney characters and everyday Scenes in his community. While serving in the U.S. Navy, Thomas discovered the market demand for his paintings, especially in creating heartfelt family portraits. After 20 years of service, he returned to Norfolk, Virginia where recognized the underrepresentation of African Americans in art. Driven by desire to depict the stories of his people, Thomas started receiving commissions for painted portraits, becoming a respected artist with a diverse clientele. Thomas’s dedication to his craft earned him recognition and accolades, including first place awards for his piece “65th Anniversary Through the Eyes of a Butterfly” and “Cool Cats” at Virginia Beach Art Center. He is represented by the esteemed Gallery Ukwensi of Ghent and has eagerly
anticipated his first solo exhibition titled “Soul Nostalgia” at Downing-Gross Cultural Arts Center in Newport News, Virginia. Through his art Ralph Thomas continues to celebrate the beauty of African American culture and strives to share the stories of his community with the world.
Born and raised in Brooklyn, NY, I grew up cultivating my natural artistic ability by watching the creative processes of my father (a portrait artist) and eldest brother (a pioneering Graffiti artist). Having received no formal art training, they instead were my artistic teachers and technical advisors. Over the years, I’ve participated in many group and solo exhibitions throughout the northeast region, winning numerous awards. I’ve previously served as co-curator of 1199SEIU Gallery in NYC, have appeared as a guest on the television program “SteelStacks Live!”, was hired as a courtroom sketch artist for the Pocono Record Newspaper, and served as director of ARTSPACE Gallery in Stroudsburg, PA. I’ve also published a volume of poetry. Recently I moved to coastal VA and instantly fell in love with the incredibly vibrant, warm, and inviting art scene. I currently have a work included in Virginia MOCA’s “Open (C) all 2023 Curious Collections” exhibition which has been an incredibly wonderful experience, and I look forward to immersing myself in the wonderful art-life that Hampton Roads has to offer.
Clayton Singleton
“You sense what people call passion” when you are around Clayton Singleton. His blend of verbal and visual language examines education, aspiration,​​ perseverance, and beauty. This Virginia resident’s blend of verbal and visual art inspires, motivates and educates through masterful figurative painting that has been elevating the lives of men, women, and children of color before that topic permeated the national dialogue.
Maria Sunglao
Hi there! I’m a professional fine art photographer specializing in whimsical and storytelling portraiture. Currently residing in Virginia Beach but was born and raised in the Philippines. My art is heavily influenced by my own childhood growing up in the province surrounded by nature and animals. Website: www.iyaestrellado.com
Kanisha Haskins-Combs
As long as I can remember, I have been addicted to the process of creating. Through my small business, Earthy Child, my intention is to focus that passion into making a difference. By using mainly reclaimed materials, my goal is to reduce the amount of ‘trash’ that is entering landfills by repurposing and upcycling single use plastic bags, unwanted linens, t-shirts, reclaimed and unwanted yarn, fabric remnants, and anything else I can get my hands on. I hope that my creations evoke positive emotions, but I really want them to be an opportunity to reflect on what we choose to (and not to) place value in.
Rashad Reid
Suffolk native, Rashad Reid formally known as Xpressart is a Fine Arts Major student at the illustrious Norfolk State University. Showing raw artistic talents from a young age, he found himself captivated by teachings centered in African indigenous people. His dedication to his craft and his commitment to exploring the depths of human expression make him a true visionary in the world of art. His visually stunning paintings have graced the walls of galleries and exhibitions across Hampton Roads, captivating viewers with their bold colors and intricate details. Xpressart is an artist whose work leaves an indelible mark on the soul.
Isabella Haney
I am Isabella Haney, a seventh grader at Norfolk Academy. Art is my hobby, my pastime, and my self-expression. When not experimenting with all of the wonderful mediums out there, I can be found both playing and listening to music. I take inspiration from nature, media, and the world around me.
Short Story
Short Story is a highly skilled mixed media, sketch, collage and screen print artist from Portsmouth, VA. He is unique as an artist, incorporating dying elements of newspaper and pop art schemes to create refreshing new art that still feels vintage. It’s called Glamour and Grit. A mix of fashion/illustration/graffiti and fine art, balanced into compositions on canvas and wood.
James “Jimmy” K. Lee

James “Jimmy” Lee was born in Greensboro, N.C. and raised in Mt. Vernon, NY. He graduated from Norfolk State College and majored in Health and Physical Education. Prior to Retirement his career included the positions of Physical Education Instructor and Wrestling Coach at Norfolk State University; High School and Physical Education teacher, School Administrator and Coach. Jimmy Lee spends his days creating artwork and listening to R&&B oldies and Jazz.

James “Jimmy” Lee is a self-taught artist who strives to reflect the African perspective using various Art mediums. My focus is to capture the varied emotions and culture of my subjects. Recently i habe adventured from black and whites known as pointillism to watercolor.

Sonya Z. Phillips
Sonya Z. Phillips is a native of Virginia Beach, VA. and a US Army Veteran. Sonya graduated from Old Dominion University with a BS in Biology and International Business. She is a Fashion Designer for Stretch Couture, a Fashion Brand that teaches Sewing Classes and offers Fashion Business Coaching to aspiring fashion designers. Sonya started her business in 2001 as a self-taught seamstress who learned the basics of sewing in her 7th grade home economics class, but has since studied Couture Fashion Design under Marc Jacobs. In 2022 she founded Sustainabili-T, a lifestyle brand focused on sustainable fashion and self-love. Her work raises awareness about water preservation via reducing plastic pollution. She encourages upcycling and reuse. She teaches people how to mend clothing to extend the life of that garment. She is the Co-Founder of Green Drinks Portsmouth, a Clean Water Captain with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and Social Media Manager for Tidewater Coalition for the People, an environmental organization based in Suffolk, VA. In addition to a passion for fashion, Sonya is passionate about helping people to achieve their weight loss and wellness goals as the Co-Owner of Dream Shape Body Contouring Med Spa. She started the spa with one of her best friends that struggled with weight loss her whole life. Now together they are changing the lives of their clients. Sonya has a heart to serve, she is the 2nd Vice President of the Pembroke Manor Civic League and she is the Volunteer Coordinator for the Young Investors Group, a non-profit that teaches financial technical skills to youth in low income and high crime areas. Sonya served as a former International Pageant Queen from 2020-2021, she was the very first Ms. Plus Culture Galaxy. Now she serves as the Executive Assistant to the Economic and Development Chief of Volo, a village located in the Volta Region of Ghana. Sonya is also an Amazon #1 best-selling author and a podcast host.

See what the garden is doing for black history month