Motivation Behind the Gun Violence Awareness Billboard Campaign
Back in the 1930s, Carter G. Woodson, author of “The Mis-Education of the Negro,” and the pioneer of what has become Black History Month, noted that America’s historical and persistent prejudice against Black people is “the worst sort of lynching.” That’s because almost everything we are all being taught about who we are is through a white supremacist, capitalistic, patriarchal frame of thinking. This indoctrination becomes a form of unprocessed trauma that is then internalized – no matter what race or ethnicity one subscribes to – and is also unconsciously transferred from generation to generation. Black-on-Black violence, then, reveals itself as a symptom of an ingrained unworthiness and self-loathing that is reinforced within society, schools, communities, in sometimes, even within our own families.
As a University of Oregon doctoral candidate, I have been doing research for years about the symptoms and effects of internalized trauma, particularly on Black youth. Through this billboard campaign, I want the imagery and words to remind the Black community of Woodson’s words: “If you make a man feel that he is inferior, you do not have to compel him to accept an inferior status, for he will seek it himself.” I also want all people, but particularly, the Black community, to understand that the only way for anyone to free themselves from this self-perpetuating form of colonization is to recognize the soup we are all swimming in, and for each individual to decide to make different choices, as freedom of one’s mind begins with a healing of one’s own heart.
The inspiration for these works began with an invitation from Dr. S. Renee Mitchell to create visual pieces to accompany her poetry. Knowing that the messaging would be addressing Black on Black gun violence, I decided the messaging on this subject that I’d been seeing for the past 30+ years would not suffice. In the spirit of Renee’s words I chose images and subject matter that I believe touches on the core issue at hand. That is the calculated manifestation of an environment of self hate. It’s vital that the individuals involved in this ongoing cycle of violence be reminded that they weren’t responsible for assassinating, imprisoning or exiling our Black civil rights leaders. Neither did they decide to run freeways through their own neighborhoods. And they certainly didn’t decide at a governmental level to introduce crack cocaine into Black and Brown neighborhoods in the 1980s that set in motion this 30+ year cycle of violence they find themselves in today. Each and every egregious affront mentioned above was a systematic decision targeting Black communities throughout the United States. The foundation and perpetuation of this systematic oppression is white supremacy. It is my intention to remind the Black minds inside these Black bodies that they may think that these bullets fly because someone snitched or even killed a love one. I’m suggesting that this is not the reason you’re shooting, but instead a symptom of the environment you find yourself in. Broaden your gaze my Brotha, only then will you be able to do the math and exact the change we need.
S. Renee Mitchell
S. Renee Mitchell, a 2019-20 Spirit of Portland winner, is best described as a Creative Revolutionist™, which includes being a published author, playwright, spoken word poet, curriculum designer, multi-media ARTivist, and visionary behind I Am M.O.R.E. (Making Ourselves Resilient Everyday), a heART-focused, nationally ward-winning youth development initiative that supports youth of color to move from trauma to empowered resilience. Renee is also well-known for her years as a columnist for The Oregonian, where she was nominated twice for the prestigious Pulitzer Prize and was voted the No. 1 newspaper columnist in five Western states. Now an expert on trauma-informed healing practices and culturally relevant social emotional learning, Renee will receive her Doctor of Education degree from the University of Oregon in June 2021. Motivated by intention and heart, Renee’s deepest desire is to help others use their creativity to let go, gather up and move on in order to find their voice, inner sources of healing and joy, and their own unique place in the world. Find out more at www.ReneeMitchellSpeaks.com
Elijah Hasan is an award-winning photographer, filmmaker, and educator has emerged as one of the region’s most daring and innovative artists. His work knows no boundaries or genres, as he moves between art disciplines and the styles within them. As a writer and director his work includes documentary, experimental, and narrative filmmaking. As a teaching artist through residencies and workshops he’s introduced young people to creative filmmaking, photography and various multimedia disciplines. Whether it be police officers working with students as artists or facilitating candid conversations between youth and civic leaders utilizing film as the medium, his hybrid artistic approaches to programming have resulted in transformative impacts on participants as well as their exhibition audiences. While primarily known for his films and still photography, he describes what he does more universally—as “making art.” His films often employ experimental techniques that work to blend complex concepts with powerful, graceful storytelling.