Anyone attending a protest or march for justice in the Twin Cities over these past few years has undoubtedly heard a call carry over the crowd: “Listennn!” It’s a sure bet KingDemetrius Pendleton is there. An award-winning independent journalist and photographer with Listen Media USA, he’s been on the front lines of most demonstrations for about seven years, live-streaming events and documenting people and moments through photographs. Some of these are on display in The Third Place Gallery (3730 Chicago Ave.) studio of renowned Minneapolis street photographer Wing Young Huie.
Called “The Movement Never Stops,” the exhibition and accompanying book is a collection of Pendleton’s images from countless gatherings with family and community members seeking justice for Minnesotans killed or impacted by violence. The photographs are at turns raw, beautiful and painful – and offer perhaps the most comprehensive body of work surrounding the local Black Lives Matter movement to date.
As Pendleton’s artist statement reads: “The images I capture give voice to the voiceless. I focus on the social justice movement documenting the powerful words and actions of the people, so they won’t be erased from memory.”
Pendleton came to this profession later in life, a direction moved, sadly, by tragedy. His daughter, Brandy Ann Banks-Sutta, was killed by a drunk driver in 2013 at the age of 21. Determined to fight for justice, Pendleton began live-streaming events. When Jamar Clark was killed by police officers in 2015, he saw firsthand how readily a false narrative was spun by authorities and reported on by the media. He recalled a young child recounting what he saw happen to Clark.
“A lotta times we ignore our children’s cry,” said Pendleton. “This young child was so convincing, and not only that, he knew exactly what he was sayin’. He described all the details and everything.” But according to Pendleton, the child’s mother began receiving threats if her son talked again.
As Pendleton became more and more of a fixture in the movement, he said he saw a pattern in coverage by the mainstream media.
“All these things was happening, and every time the news would say somethin’ it would be somethin’ that was totally different from what I’ve seen. And I’m boots on the ground, grassroots,” he said.
He describes his earlier photos as “very shallow.” With encouragement from friends, especially from Felicia Clark, who really inspired him, he attended Minneapolis Community & Technical College. In 2019, he earned a degree in applied science and another in photography and digital imaging – nearly three decades after being out of school.
As a single dad with six of his kids ages 11 on up living at home with him, Pendleton was proud they were able to see him walk across the stage for his graduation. He got to show them it’s never too late to get an education.
“It’s never too late, right?” he said. “So, when they see me do that, then I just wanted to keep on doin’ more.”
He began calling out “Listennn” when a speaker would make a poignant statement, because he truly wanted people to listen – with a critical ear. This led to the name of his platform, Listen Media USA. After George Floyd was murdered and Pendleton’s photography garnered a lot more notice, he put his hat in the ring to be among the pool of reporters allowed in the courtroom to cover Derek Chauvin’s trial. Listen Media wasn’t selected, but a cohort he was part of, Move for Justice News, was.
Pendleton was inside the courtroom on three separate days during the trial. On the first day, he came face to face with Chauvin, who was walking freely – with officers, but without handcuffs. He said Chauvin stopped in his tracks.
“The reason why he stopped in his tracks is because I practice Islam, so I had my kufi on my head, my Muslim hat. And I was dressed to the ‘T,’ with my briefcase and everything… He had this look like, ‘Oh [expletive]… we got a Muslim in here on me,” said Pendleton. “But ah, it was phenomenal to see the expression on his face, to see he was totally shocked.”
A fan of both the television show Perry Mason and Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, Pendleton was in awe of special prosecutor Jerry Blackwell. He was impressed by how Blackwell painted the picture of the full weight bearing down on George Floyd’s neck, beginning with Chauvin’s body weight and one by one adding on the service belt, the service gun.
“[Blackwell] whooped ‘im fiercely. He didn’t let up and he didn’t get up,” said Pendleton.
BALANCING COMMUNITY SERVICE
It’s hard work being on the front lines of the movement, especially balancing time to be present with family.
“I want my children to understand that, when you see me out here doin’ this, this is not for fun. This is me givin’ back to my community,” he said.
Pendleton battled addiction for nearly 15 years of his life but said even then he knew that wasn’t him. With a “praying grandmother” who was a Christian and an uncle who introduced him to the Nation of Islam, he knew “right from wrong.” He had the best of both worlds – on the one hand spiritual songs that made his hair stand up on end, and on the other hand, an education.
“Anything I learned in school, it wasn’t beneficial to me. But when I went to the mosque… they taught me my history, they taught me the true value… of different things, and that was a plus plus for me,” he said.
SUPPORTED BY MENTORS
Pendleton credits a number of mentors who offered guidance and support, especially master photographer Wing Young Huie. He first went to Huie’s studio because he wanted to learn, and began volunteering and helping out. Now, some of Pendleton’s most striking images are on display in the very same studio.
Huie commented, “I am honored to showcase the important photography of KingDemetrius Pendleton at The Third Place, where over the decade hundreds of local artists have used my gallery as an artistic incubator.”
“It’s just amazin’ for him to open up a space for me,” said Pendleton. “Wing Young Huie is one of those people that… don’t mind sharing the platform. A lot of times people get on the elevator, and they get all the way up to the top and… they don’t press the button so it’ll go back down to get other people. He’s not one of those people.”
Pendleton has received recognition for his efforts and held his first exhibition in St. Paul in May 2022. But as an independent journalist, pay can be slim to none. Sales of his book and prints offer some support, but ultimately he would like to obtain funding to open his own storefront studio with a darkroom where he can mentor others.
“I want my flowers while I’m alive so I can smell ‘em,” he said. “I just want my children to be able to enjoy the fruit of the land, and I want to be able to enjoy the fruit of the land while I’m here.”
“The Movement Never Stops” exhibition is open Saturdays and Sundays at The Third Place gallery, 3730 Chicago Ave. More information can be found on Facebook at Demetrius.pendleton.5, on Instagram at kingdemetriuspendleton and at listenmedia.org.
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