“I am important because __________”

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.

Trayvon

                    Trayvon

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.

Bay View High School Students with Trayvon

Bay View High School Students with Trayvon

 

Embracing Art’s Healing Power

Life experiences are a mixed bag at best!  As we continue to live each of us will have our share of “life” and there’s no way of getting around it.  I think the reality of having to deal with emotions that arise from these experiences is what is most troubling.

You’ve heard the saying time is a great healer—well the pen and paper, easel, clay, sketchpad, etc., can be too.  This year provided much fodder for creativity as well as any other year that’s come and gone before it.  On both inter- and intrapersonal level I, like you have had my share of the good, the bad, and the ugly.  In addition, the events that have happened around us—the things that come from without and which we have no control over—continue to impact our present and future outlook as we respond to life experiences.  As an optimistic realist I have had both growth and decline in my emotional, social, and spiritual life this year.

Gratefully, we artists have a way to vent and express our joy and sorrows.

One of the ‘without’ experiences that has affected my life forever was the outcome of the Trayvon Martin case.  Looking at it from strictly a human level—

a person’s life was taken

             by another

without vindication…period

From this outcome a sobering reality was once again brought home to bear along with far-reaching historical and present-day ramifications for the Black community.  A deep-seated inconsolable pain emerged which threatened to overtake and turn me toward a dark path.  And since the legal system in our society failed miserably to bring to justice a person responsible for the crime could it be that a person didn’t do it?  If no one did it, then it had to be Skittles.  That’s right Skittles killed Trayvon!  Thus my series “Death by Skittles” was born.

Death by Skittles--confrontation

Death by Skittles–confrontation

Without going through the litany of whys; what could be and what is, I simply know that for me the ability to release my sorrow and pain through the use of media is what is bringing healing from this tragedy.  By God’s grace I’m moving on and in my small way I will continue to address the societal problems and issues; the inequities and poor influences that affect, plague, and short-circuit our children’s paths towards a healthy future.

Death by Skittles--He's Gone

Death by Skittles–He’s Gone

From the time I started, a number of paintings, collages, writings, etc., have emerged.  I have shared a few with you.  And yes, I create art that communicates the good as well as bad.  Today someone needed to know about the ugly.

Death by Skittles-You Feelin the Rainbow?

Death by Skittles-You Feelin the Rainbow?