I slammed the book down on my bed and looked away. Tears in my eyes. The tears felt cool on my face, but in my heart they felt like knives digging into my skin. The pieces of my life seemed to crash together and break into a million pieces as I looked into the life of another. I thought about just picking up my phone and forgetting about all the stuff I had read in that book, but something in me said to pick up the book again. That it was my duty to read it, in honor of the people who lived through it. I opened it up and started reading. After the first few paragraphs the tears started again. Does this really happen today? In my country? I thought about the deep pain and the immense hopelessness that these people must feel.
I was a white girl, living in the suburbs. I went to a public school, but mostly hung out with the “private school kids.” My friends and I were well off and unaware. We went about our day with indifference and many giggles. It’s not like we were snobby, we just didn’t pay attention to the hurt or injustice that impacted the rest of our school. We only glanced at the posters on the school walls that stood for equality and love for all people. But that all changed when we were assigned a book. A book to read in English class.
In English class, most people just read the book summary and moved on, but for the most part I read the whole thing. I enjoy reading, so I was normally quite pleased to read books as a homework assignment. My friends call me a nerd for it, but it’s fun for me. This book was different though. It gave a voice to the normally muffled voice of the daily mistreatment and injustices against minorities. Specifically African Americans. I was awestruck by the page after page that left me feeling empty and silent. I started going to school, wondering what was actually going on around me that I never took the time to notice, throughout my whole life. I asked my friend, Natasha if she had read the book. She told me no, but that she read the summary to study for the test. She told me the usual about how, “that’s so horrible!” but of course paid no attention to it after that.
I would walk home from school not knowing what to do. How could this be ignored? I thought desperately. As I walked, I saw yard signs with the bold lettering of “Black Lives Matter” on them. I felt like they had been there every time I walked home, but this time I wondered about the hands that put those in the ground. What were their thoughts and experiences? What else have I been missing or ignoring in my own streets and neighborhood?
After days of feeling like I was wandering through my life rather than living it, I realized that what I was looking for was change, to speak out. Yet at the same time I didn’t know what I could possibly do. What would actually count for something? How can I make a difference?
As I lay in bed that night, colors swirled into my mind. I was an avid artist, and color was emotion for me. Mottled colors of black, red, and green engulfed my mind. I tried to figure out what these colors meant for me and for what I was trying to do. This brought back memories of art class. My very first class of the year, my freshman year in high school.
I was late for art class. I came in, quickly apologized for being late and sat down. Our art teacher was a black man, and boy did he have a passion. He was an inspiration for me and nearly all of my peers. He loved art and people. He told us to always use art for change and to make people smile. “Art is a powerful tool and it brings people together” he said, “it can shine on a wall or in your heart. Always use art to speak, whether it’s for encouragement or change.”
As all these thoughts rushed back to me, one word stuck out. CHANGE. That's what I want. I want to change. Change of my awareness and change the thoughts of a long gone past of racism. I can use art! Inspiration is a funny thing though. After that jolt of energy and passion, I had no idea where to start. I looked up towards my ceiling for something, anything to jump out at me. I had always hated my ceiling. All my walls were painted with elaborate depictions of color and dreams. But my ceiling was as plain as a piece of paper. It always seemed to stare at me blankly, having nothing to offer, and proving nearly impossible to paint on artfully.
Then my sister barged into my room, words spilling out about the date she just went on with her boyfriend. She was a pretty creative family member as well, and I guess her guy knew that, so he didn’t just go for some typical night out. All I heard were the words “mural” and “inspiring.” Then it clicked.
I sat in math class bored out of my mind, but thinking hard. Math wasn’t my strong suit and I was searching the corners of my brain on how to make change with a mural. What should I paint? Where should I do it? What emotions should I represent? I glanced around the room and saw nothing but math numbers and symbols, nothing that I found inspirational. I asked to go to the bathroom and as I searched the halls I began to notice blank spaces everywhere on the walls. This is a perfect canvas, I thought. I came back to those colors that were swirling in my head the night before. I knew what to do.
I looked at this outside wall and memories over the past year of many murals on school walls and the side of my parent’s house. I laughed at the thought of my mom’s surprised face after that paint job. All these paintings flashed through my mind and I felt the power of passion pulse through me.
“This should be perfect,” I said to nobody in particular. I opened up my black can of paint, then my red and then green. I scooped my silky brush out of the drippy paint. The color engulfed the bristles, and the odor climbed up to my nose. I went up the ladder and spread the paint onto the concrete wall. The strokes went up and down and flowed with my emotions. I felt a passion go up my arm and into the wall itself. A star, a black star, a beautiful star, formed. I smeared red strokes surrounding the star. The red showcased my passion for art, my love for people, and my anger for inequality. The green splashed onto my canvas for change. I felt my longing for change go out into the deep color. It displayed beauty and growth. Harmony between all people and safety and healing for all races. A simple message shown below it. “WE WANT CHANGE.” The hands of the people, the hands of their hearts. Spread in defiance and joined together to highlight a passion of love, in paint.