The Freelon family has roots in the Triangle, but their talents have taken them to everywhere from an art installation in Madagascar to a mayoral campaign in Durham.
Philip Freelon is an architect responsible for designing historical centers across the country, such as the Smithsonian National Museum of African-American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., and the National Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta, Ga.
Philip has received countless awards for his work, and was appointed by former President Barack Obama to the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts. He is currently working on the expansion of the Motown Museum in Detroit, Mich.
He said he went into architecture because it combined elements of mathematics and physics with craft and design.
Philip is married to jazz vocalist and six-time Grammy nominee, Nnenna Freelon. Their son, Pierce Freelon, is a Durham native who ran for mayor.
Pierce said his passion for Durham is what compelled him to run for office.
He said while Durham is quickly changing, he wants to make sure this change reflects equity and sustainability.
“I felt a strong sense of urgency and obligation, almost like a calling, to step up for my city and community to be that change,” Pierce said.
Like his mother, Pierce has a background in music. He specializes in hip-hop and rap music production. His family has always been supportive of his decision to pursue music.
“My parents always said do what you love and success will come, because success has nothing to do with money, but everything to do with being happy,” he said.
Pierce co-founded Beat Making Lab and taught a class at UNC where he showed students how to create beats and write songs. He traveled to countries such as Congo, Fiji, Senegal, Panama and Ethiopia to teach kids how to write beats and shoot music videos.
“I've always been very connected to community and Beat Making Lab is no different,” he said. “I wanted to make sure this resource was not only available to Carolina students but to kids in East Durham and around the world.”
He said he was inspired by the opportunities he was provided with in college and wanted to use his privilege to give back to those less fortunate.
“A lot of the countries we visited didn't have access to these types of resources and privileged spaces,” Pierce said. “I was honored to be a cultural ambassador and teacher.”
Deen Freelon, Pierce's brother, is an associate professor in the UNC School of Media and Journalism.
“I wanted a chance to work with some of the excellent students here at the Media and Journalism school,” Deen said. “It feels great to be able to teach in such an excellent academic unit.”
Deen’s professional work primarily focuses on political expression online. In 2011, he worked on a study that dealt with the influence of social media on the Arab Spring.
Deen said he admires Pierce for his relentlessly positive attitude and ability to immediately connect with others.
“We’re very different in our personalities but we always have fun when we get together,” he said. “He’s one of the most positive people I know.”
Deen said a standout memory he has of him and his family is them arguing over a plate.
“We had this yellow plastic plate that had everyone in the family's name on it,” he said. “It was called the family plate, and every night we used to fight over who gets to eat on the family plate.”
Maya Freelon Asante — Pierce and Deen's sister — is an award-winning artist who has showcased work in places like Paris, Jamaica, Italy and the US Embassy in Madagascar.
Asante uses a special kind of tissue called bleeding tissue paper that blends with other colors around it when it comes in contact with water. She developed a technique called tissue ink monoprint and utilizes this process to create artwork.
“I blend the improvisational side from my mom and the creative design side from my dad,” Asante said.
Asante said her artistic inspiration comes from her grandmother, who passed away in 2011. She said her artwork is about building community, and she feels a tremendous sense of joy when she sees her artistry on display.
“I also feel like I’m honoring my grandmother and all of our ancestors that came before us,” she said. “Because of their sacrifices, I’m able to be an artist.”
Philip and Nnenna said they are proud of the work their children are doing individually.
“I love my kids and am so proud that we’ve helped to raise good people,” Nnenna said. “It’s the gift you give to yourself and the world.”
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