Politics and art, both are used by individuals to take a stand and express their ideas to a public audience. Separate, these two platforms are effective, but together they’re powerful. Janice Samuels, founder and director of National Youth Art Movement, is working with experts and youth to use art to reach the masses.
“Woke and Winning” is a youth action workshop series hosted by the National Youth Art Movement during the summer and it encourages Chicago’s youth to learn more about the gun issues that face our country. In addition to this, the workshop includes an in-depth look at how art can be used to create change on a local and national level. Each workshop features an expert to present the youth with knowledge on gun issues; the knowledge given prompts youth to want to make change.
Samuels discussed her reasoning for starting this program. “There wasn’t a lot of national coverage around gun violence issues, so when I came here I didn’t know about the issue. I started watching the news and talking to people and two things happened. One is when I looked at the news I only saw principals, parents, and police officers talking about what was happening to young people. I never saw young people talking about it whether it was happening to them, or they were the perpetrator of what was happening and I said ‘But why?’ I always worked in education and I know they have something to say why am I not seeing that.”
Former ATF agent, now the Project Director for National Law Enforcement Partnership to Prevent Gun Violence, Mark Jones gave a presentation that focused on the trauma that police officers experience during their time on the force. A summary of the presentation would be, police officers experience trauma, but how to deal it isn’t inflicted in their training. This leads to tragedy while in the field. The problem is deeply rooted within the training of police officers and mental health needs to be taken into account when it comes to such a stressful job.
Before the presentation I was able to interview him on the what changes he would like to see made on a national level to gun reform. “The real answer is I think we need to rewrite the gun control act of 68’, add it to the national firearm act of 34’, and then change them all to reflect 2018. The earliest firearm laws were written in the early 20th century and the next one was about the middle of the 20th century. Well, here we are getting into the third part of the 21st century it’s time we did a little revision to the law.”
After the presentation, we gathered around for a brief presentation on art therapy from art therapist Johanill Napoleon. NYAM emerging artist and mentor Liz Gomez started the hands-on art portion of the day by drawing spiral. The spiral drawn was meant to represent cosmic energy and natural progress. Next, the participants drew their own forms of a spiral. They were asked to relate their spirals to gun refrom. This was an interesting part of the day because we were able to see how every plan starts with one common denominator, but after a while it can be molded into several forms.
Gomez shared what she wanted youth to take away from these workshops. “You are not as powerless as they want you to believe. You are not powerless at all. You are powerful. And it’s only when you step into your own path, your own light, that you can really start to figure out what you’re meant to do. I think we are a very individualistic country, when really it’s just like, so ‘How are you giving back?’ If I have nothing else, just help others.”
With help and funding from sponsors like, Chicago Fund of Partnership of Safe and Peaceful Community, this organization will thrive and bring real change from Chicago to a national level.
By Triniti Maye, Freshman, Saint Xavier University