Artist: Amaryllis DeJesus Moleski
I'm still brimming with emotion triggered by the court's acquittal of Trayvon Martin's murderer
, but I haven't given up hope. Oftentimes, the most hopeless moments are those that inspire us to look most deeply within ourselves and our own communities, and we discover, perhaps with surprise, that we're the ones with the answers we've been hoping to find. I've been coming across answers infused with creativity ever since I asked the question of "What will we do?"
The thing is, I'm not seeking answers from the criminal justice system. I already know that what I'm searching for can't be found in courts or prisons or police departments. Mia Murietta wrote an insightful piece entitled "Justice for Trayvon Martin: Why Punishing His Killer Isn't Enough
," posted on the Ella Baker Center's blog, Ella's Voice. As she pointed out, "Our 'justice' system doesn’t deliver justice. It enforces laws. It is a legal system that creates and perpetuates the kind of structural racism and devaluing of black lives that lead to killings like Trayvon’s, Oscar Grant’s, and so many other unarmed, young Black men
." The George Zimmerman case doesn't highlight some previously undiscovered flaw in our legal system. It sheds light on what many of us already knew – that when the criminal justice system operates as it's designed, it bolsters systems of oppression and continues to harm those who have been degraded for centuries. People of color know this. Low-income people know this. Queer and trans people know this, as demonstrated in
Toshio Meronek's Advocate article, in which he frames the choices of LGBT people of color facing violent situations as "Be Killed or Be Caged?" For those of us who aren't white or upper class or straight, it's no surprise that justice for Trayvon does not exist in a courtroom. So, how can we assure our minds to believe that Trayvon can rest in peace? How can we comfort one another in these times of fear, knowing that
any one of us could be the next one murdered in a violent act ruled "justifiable"? How can we hope for change, when every arrest, lack of arrest, or verdict contributes to our loss of faith? I still don't have all the answers, but as people are gathering together to help one another through this difficult time, I'm gathering more clues as to where the answers are for me. And for me, all answers point to creativity. With creativity defined as the use of imagination
or original ideas, it's no wonder that this is the source of hope for me right now. Justice for Trayvon doesn't exist in preexisting systems, so now is the time for our imagination to come to life. I see examples in the city of Oakland, where I live. Betti Ono Gallery has been offering safe space
for folks to come together in reflection and solidarity, to have dialogue about the verdict and the kind of change it calls for. Down the street, Solespace
has had Art 4 Justice workshops
to give those who are emotionally impacted by the verdict some time and space to express themselves. And I also see examples from around the world. The #blacklivesmatter hashtag
has spread throughout the internet to show that we value black lives, even if the courts don't. New pieces of art are coming into existence every day, to mourn for Trayvon
and to depict alternatives to the systems
that allowed Zimmerman to murder him without consequence. Writers are sharing their words of reaction, hurt, and healing – Vanessa Huang included my words in this found poem
, "a living monument of love." Stevie Wonder announced
that he refuses to perform in Florida while the state's Stand Your Ground is in place, and other artists are beginning to follow his lead
You see my point. When we feel lost without hope, we've got artists, musicians, and innovators to create hope for us. On the side of those who want to uphold oppressive systems as they are, they've got badges, uniforms, and gavels. That's a lot of power. It can feel like a losing fight. But then again, another definition of creativity
says that creativity is "marked by the ability or power to create, to bring into existence, to invest with a new form, to produce through imaginative skill, to make or bring into existence something new."
Sounds like a lot of power to me. Where injustice currently exists, we have the power to create something new.
Today is World AIDS Day
. I've written about HIV
and worked in HIV prevention, and I'm always saddened by the role that stigma plays in creating the pain that surrounds HIV and AIDS. Many of us don't want to talk about HIV or associate with it, which makes it easier to forget that stories of HIV aren't just about a virus – they’re about humans, brave humans who are hurt by our silence. Here's a project that helps combat that stigma. Magnum Photos shares stories and photographs of people around the world who are living with HIV and the stigma that comes with it. Here's "Stigma Under the Lens."
I'm trying not to feel like a crotchety old woman, getting more and more embittered about certain holidays
as each year goes by. But it can be hard sometimes, when you get to realize what really goes on to maintain some traditions.
Take Valentine's Day. I'm not against celebrating love, of course. No, I'm far from it. The problem I find in Valentine's Day is that it can feel like a cheapening of the true value of love
, reducing it to expectations of material things and the kind of love that fits into a particular picture, one that leaves out many of the bonds that keep us strong, including love for family, for friends, and perhaps the greatest love of all
, love for ourselves. No wonder so many people end up hating this day. So I'm on the lookout this year, for more holistic celebrations. Some fun examples of folks who are celebrating love in their own way are posted on the Occupy Valentine's Day tumblr.
My focus for today is self-love, because I can always use a reminder to love myself, so I might as well turn Valentine's Day into exactly that.
How can art support self-love? Here's a great example - Jackie O'Nappy's written a lovely blog post
about the potential influence of photography. She writes about being photographed by Saddi Khali
, whose photographs of black folks take my breath away, and says, "I fell in love with a woman last week...my reflection in the mirror." It sounds like a transformative experience. Read her post, "Let's see ourselves beautiful again,"
and check out Saddi Khali's photos
. In his own words, Saddi Khali writes:
"Black people need 2 see images of ourselves w/ humanity. women beautiful regardless of size, shape or complexion. men strong, sensitive & loving. parents & children caring & happy. couples in love in warm intimate moments. us as lovers, sensual & sexy but not nasty even when we’re nasty. this is not 2 say that other folks don’t need 2 see themselves in certain ways. but, i don’t know those ways. i DO know how my folks r being fooled by & misrepresented in arts & media. & i DO know how its affecting us. so, all the work i do is in the intention of combating that."
"Praying Mantis" by Saddi Khali
I notice something when I see photos like the ones Saddi Kahli takes - photos of black people, natural and alight with pride. Perhaps it's simply because I'm not used to seeing such images, as they are usually absent from the media, or perhaps it's because some part of me still believes in the message that absence conveys - that my black body isn't beautiful, not if I don't try harder to be thinner, lighter, or whatever else it would take to fit the right image. When I see such photos, I remember that I don't have to look to a figure who's glamorous and perfected to find beauty. I can gaze as far s Jackie O'Nappy can, and simply look in the mirror.
And this beauty isn't purely a physical manifestation - it's the beauty found in strength and spirit, that which sometimes goes beyond words, found only when art speaks.
It's this kind of beauty that's on my mind when I think of Whitney Houston, gone now from our world, leaving behind, as Jamilah King said in this Colorlines article
, twin legacies of beauty and pain. I feel that I don't have the words to honor Whitney, at least not yet, so I've been looking to others. It's hard, though, to get through those pictures painted with a filter of judgment, and misconceptions about addiction, and our human need to illuminate the flaws of others in order to cast a shadow over our own. Stacia L. Brown conveys how I've felt about it, in this hauntingly beautiful post on her blog
When art is unafraid to embrace us in our wholeness, we know that we don't need to erase our scars to be beautiful. Everything about us, from our shadows to our light, creates the spirit that gives us true beauty. For each of us, the one close enough to see all of our darkness and light is the self. So that's where love begins. With compassionate care for one's whole self, inside and out. Looking for a place to celebrate love on Valentine's Day? Join us at CUAV, where all are welcome to attend our monthly membership meeting. We'll talk about what the media says about love, and how we can tell our own stories. Dinner is included! Whose Story? My Story! Our Stories! Tuesday, February 14, 6:30-8:30 pm at CUAV, 427 South Van Ness Ave, in San Francisco. Also, check out CUAV's website for some loving reminders on staying safe on your Valentine's Day date.
Today is National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day
. This year's theme is "I am my brother/sister's keeper." It's a statement for how important community can be in the fight against HIV/AIDS, and a reminder that our brothers and sisters who are infected are, still, our beloved brothers and sisters. Increasing awareness has helped us make strides in HIV prevention and treatment, but still, populations like black communities, black
women, and people in prisons are experiencing disproportionate rates of infection. As you know, I believe in the power of sharing stories
, as Catherine Wyatt-Morley bravely does in this story
of learning to live with HIV and without shame. But this article contains the words "Hers was not the face of HIV." Is there a real face of HIV? The idea that there is suggests that we could just close our eyes and forget that face, rather than remembering that it could be the face of our brother, our sister, or the face we see in the mirror.
The photography project "A Day with HIV in America"
features folks with powerful stories about living with and caring for those with HIV and AIDS, and it shows a great variety of faces. It's a stunning example of how telling stories through art
can open our eyes to the world we live in, moving beyond the silence and shame
, the myths and hurtful stigma
that allow this disease to continue knocking on our doors. If we never answer, never face the truth, it doesn't change the world we live in. It just leaves us in the dark, afraid to step into the light. So, what will you do for National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day? Get tested? Spread the word? Attend an event? There's no reason to fear this day, or any other day on which AIDS is part of our reality. We got this.
I feel so lucky for the chance to work with Kwame Dawes
at Pacific University. He's one of my wonderful workshop leaders at this residency
(along with Ellen Bass
), and I'm also going to get to work with him one-on-one throughout the semester as he serves as my faculty advisor. I am, to say the least, thrilled. He gave an incredibly moving reading last night, and after hearing him and the amazing Patricia Smith, I spent the evening in a giddy poetry nerd trance. It was almost too much. What's a girl supposed to do with all that inspiration?
I'm working hard on the answer. But my time here at the residency isn't nearly the extent of my admiration for Kwame Dawes. Earlier this month was Caribbean American HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, and as you may know, both the Caribbean and HIV prevention are passionate topics for me.
This is why I adore Dawes' Emmy awarding-winning website, LiveHopeLove.com
, which draws attention
to the HIV/AIDS crisis in Dawes' home country of Jamaica. Kwame Dawes' remarkable poetry sheds light on the lives of those who are living in Jamaica with hope, love and HIV. Visit the website for the full experience of LiveHopeLove. Here's a glimpse of it, with Kwame reading his words among images of Joshua Cogan's photography. Also, this Monday, June 27th, is National HIV Testing Day. Will you participate?