This week I got to meet Angela Davis at San Leandro High. She was invited by the Social Justice Academy of the high school to come and speak to the students about her experiences as a social justice movement activist. I have been an admirer of Davis since I first read about the activist work she did in the 60s and 70s. It was great to hear her speak to the youth in my community about activism and her the reality of what it was like to grow up in the South in the 1950s. Ari Dolid, who teaches in the Social Justice Academy, invited me to come and meet Davis. I was given the opportunity to give her one of the “Angela” prints I first created in 2001. I have been wanting to give one her ever since I made it.
It was good to hear what Davis had to say to the youth, sharing stories about her first hand experience of growing up in segregated Alabama. She told the young people about the street that she lived on as a kid, where Whites lived on one side of the street and Blacks were only allowed to live and walk on the other side of the street. The exception to this rules was if the Blacks worked in the homes of Whites on the opposite side of the street. Davis mentioned a game she would play, where the Black kids would run from their side to the White side, and the winner was the kid brave enough to run up the steps and ring the doorbell of a White household without getting caught. This is one of those stories I feel had a big impact on these youth who only read about type of racial segregation in books or has seen something about it on television.
Davis next spoke about her move to New York to attend high school, and joining the picketing of Woolworths to protest their support of segregated lunch counters in the South. Davis then spoke about the Civil Rights Movement, which she said was less about Civil Rights and more about a Freedom Movement of Black people which was seen as a continuation of the anti-slavery movement. Davis spoke about the movement and explained that its success arose through the dedication of the countless many who worked and organized to make sure that flyers were made to advertise actions and that people came out to walk the pickets lines. She connected this Freedom Movement work to the work that has to be done by the many people to get Obama elected. She emphasized how it is up to the people, the masses, to continue to organize to make sure that Obama keeps his campaign promises as well as adding issues that have not been part of his platform.
I think Davis’ most important point was that the success of the social justice movements are not due to great leaders but because of the many people who have worked to make sure that the work on the ground, at the grassroots, kept happening. This is one approach I have tried to work into my art, although I have created many portraits of “heroes,” there are many pieces I have made that focus on the people who are not recognized but are people who have contributed to the struggle for a better world. This is a view that has been inspired by the Zapatistas. The Zapatistas believe that leadership comes from below and that it is the people that will make change not just the recognized leaders.
Coming up in February, Melanie and I will be teaching a class on poster making to the students of the Social Justice Academy. We are really looking forward to the class and sharing our skills with the youth in our community. The class will focus on helping the youth create posters that deal with issues that they have been studying in their classes or that they feel are personally important and will culminate with an exhibition in the community.