To say that Two Thousand Fourteen came in as a whirlwind would be an understatement! Between school, work, and art I’ve had hardly time to breathe; however, I must admit the constant stimulation helps keep me on my toes. There has been very little time to “veg out” instead I’ve had to take my organizational skills to another level in order to keep everything straight. The reality is that time waits for no one, gets shorter the longer we live, and continues to march on whether we keep in step or not.
It’s hard to believe that over 2 years have passed since Trayvon Martin’s death and that we’re close to the one-year anniversary since the verdict concerning his murder was passed. Some reading this may wonder, “Why keep bringing the case up? Isn’t it time to move on?” The answer to this question begs more questions. Have we learned anything from what happened? Has anything changed—if so for better or worse? What’s happening today to prevent this same tragedy from occurring tomorrow and what can I do about it? These are some of the discussion points I recently posed to ninth graders at Bay View High School while visiting during their spring STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics) Conference. I presented in three sessions with approximately 20 students in each one.
As an artist dealing with events affecting youth I was invited to share with the students my work post Trayvon Martin. As I prepared for the visit I thought about what I would do to be as a jumping off point. Besides paintings, drawings, and collages I had been planning to create an installation or sculpture for some time. So with some assistance from another artist I created a representational plaster cast of Trayvon. Here it is presented it in a class project.
At Bay View I stood him upright on a desk so that this was the first thing the students saw as they entered the room! My second ice breaker was a spoken word piece followed by dialog directed to the students so I could get a chance to know them better. Please complete the statement, “I am important because _________.” I went around the room and asked each person to fill in the blank. Amazingly, some had a hard time answering. Honestly think about it; when is the last time you thought about the importance of your being? For those who answered, “I don’t know” I circled back to them after giving others an opportunity to respond. As the teens became more comfortable they opened up and told what made them important:
“I’m a role model to my younger sisters and brothers”
“I help people”
“if people knew my story they would realize how lucky they are to be here”
“I’m nice to others”
“Because God made me and I’m here”
Since we are important (and everyone is), we have a purpose for being here. We can never forget about Trayvon Martin—his life was important; and his death does matter. Each one should ask: How can I make a difference? What do I have to say? What can I do? The teens in each session shared their concerns, fears, and outlook for the future. Many gave examples and incidents where they have been personally touched and affected—identifying and experiencing “being Trayvon” in their world. At their age they have an opportunity to make a difference—whether they speak about it, write about it, or create art about it. I encouraged them to know that their efforts can spark change. What has history taught us? That he is notorious for repeating himself over and over again until we are determined to act.