In the six months since Ahmaud Arbery’s murder, those closest to him, as well as activists and youth across the country, have been organizing and advocating for justice for Ahmaud and the greater Black Lives Matter movement. Three organizations: Students Unite!, Youth Speak Justice, and the 2:23 Foundation have called youth worldwide to unite through art.
August 26th, 2020, Savannah, GA
On February 23, just two days after the Brooklyn Friends School (BFS) 11th grade students returned from their Nobis Project field study experience, “Race, Power, and the Preservation of African-American History & Gullah-Geechee Culture” in Savannah and on Sapelo Island, Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man and Sapelo descendant was ambushed, shot, and killed by two white men while jogging in Brunswick, Georgia. Inspired and moved by the 2:23 Foundation’s powerful campaign for justice, several BFS students came together in partnership with the2:23 Foundation team and created “Students Unite!” to raise awareness and foster conversations on systemic racism within America for students and school communities across the country.
Over the last three months, BFS “Students Unite!” leaders have collaborated with the 2:23 Foundation team to launch a virtual discussion series on racial justice, accountability, and activism garnering registered attendance of over 3,000 participants. As Kayla N, a Students Unite! leader wrote, “our team is committed to creating active spaces where young people can bring attention to the pressing justice issues that we want to address, and work together to help influence the change we would like to see. Through the events and action opportunities that we organize, we create space for discussions that demonstrate the often-overlooked power and resilience of youth.”
In partnership with Youth Speak Justice, a youth-led community organization based in Ahmaud’s hometown of Brunswick, Georgia, Students Unite! and the 2:23 Foundation recently launched “Art & Action for Ahmaud,” a call-to-action that builds upon the many ways these organizations have been inspiring action and advocating for justice. Founded by Nataysha W, Youth Speak Justice is led by young people who “believe we are not too young to speak out against racism, prejudice, and injustice. Through our voices and experiences we hope to create change and end systematic oppression in America.”
By organizing a call for art—ranging from photography to spoken word to filmmaking— the Students Unite!, Youth Speak Justice, and 2:23 Foundation teams aim for the exhibition to raise awareness, inspire change, and honor Ahmaud and countless other Black and Brown individuals who have unjustly lost their lives.
Young people ages 13 to 25, from locations including New York, Georgia, Washington, California, Florida, Maryland, and Scotland, submitted pieces to honor Ahmaud Arbery and all Black lives. Out of the twenty art submissions received, nine were chosen to be featured at a virtual exhibition hosted by Savannah State University. Limited viewers can see the exhibit projected in person at the Kennedy Fine Arts Gallery.
One of the featured submissions entitled “iRunWithMaud” is an orange quilt showing Ahmaud’s face. This piece, sewn by Martha W., was submitted by the founder of the Remembrance Project of the Social Justice Sewing Academy (SJSA), a California-based “youth education program that bridges artistic expression with activism to advocate for social justice.” The quilt depicts the image of Ahmaud wearing a baseball cap, an image that has circulated across the country in the wake of his murder. With this piece, Students Unite! members were reminded of Ahmaud’s role as a son, friend, and teammate who always looked to motivate and encourage others.
The second featured submission, “The Names of America’s Betrayed,” is an intricate drawing created by fifteen year old Kaia M. from Avenues: The World School in New York. This piece encompasses a Black person’s hands in chains with the year “2020” while holding a stick with the American flag on one side and a human heart on the other surrounded by names. Kaia shared, “As I created this art piece, I decided to write down all of the victims’ names of unjust police killings of Black people. My heart hurt as I read each story and it broke when I realized I couldn’t fit all of them on this paper. I hope the viewer of my artwork feels pain, sorrow, and anger. I hope they are inspired to educate themselves and take action against police brutality. This is a piece of art to commemorate the wrongfully murdered and demonstrate how many lives have been lost by those who are supposed to protect everyone equally.”
While news articles and radio stories play a role in informing us, art expresses feelings and emotions that sometimes cannot be summed up with words. Art has the power to instill inspiration, hope, and to simply acknowledge a tragic passing. Youth are the catalysts for change in the historical time we are all living in. “We believe that students are the voice of change. Once we understand our history and educate ourselves we are unstoppable. There are many calls to action in the world right now and we are inspired by the potential to stay connected and organize together for justice,” says Cyrah J, another Students Unite! leader. Through “Art & Action for Ahmaud,” the hope is to raise and instill awareness of the racial injustices and acts of violence that must be dismantled and battled until true equity is achieved.
The Students Unite! mission states, “Students Unite! strives to be unwavering and persistent in seeking justice for the lives that have been lost due to relentless systemic oppression in both our local and global communities. Our goal as a youth-led collective is to create change and transformation of the systems that are not working for all people. We seek to inspire and connect youth so that we may recognize and utilize the potential we each hold to speak out against injustice.”
Press Contact Information:
Evelyn Yu, Students Unite!, Brooklyn Friends School, Class of 2021
via Dan Altano, Brooklyn Friends School Director of Communications
Christen Clougherty, Savannah State University, Director of Galleries