Creative for a cause

Students use art to advocate for Black Lives Matter

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A student poses for Rejuvenated Jeans. Photo courtesy of Cole Francis ’22

This summer, many teenagers attended protests or donated to Black Lives Matter (BLM) organizations. Several inspired Jones students have been using their art to advocate for BLM in order to make a political difference.

Cole Francis ‘22 started a small business in June called “Rejuvenated Jeans.”  He takes jeans from his clients and works with them to create an artistic vision for their piece of clothing. He then paints personalized pieces. For payment, he said he donates half of  his proceeds to causes that support the BLM movement.

“Fifty percent of the proceeds are currently going to different BIPOC organizations, and just organizations that I really feel could use support, especially at this time when racial tensions are so high,” said Francis.

 Some teens have said they feel a responsibility to uplift Black Indigonius People of Color’s (BIPOC) voices after several videos of police brutality went viral this summer. Young artists, such as Francis, said they want to raise awareness and donate money to causes that they are passionate about.

“I always just thought, what can I be doing right now?” said Francis. 

This is a question so many teens have asked themselves this year. When videos of police brutality have been broadcast all over the country, many young people wonder how they can make a difference. Protesting seems like the obvious answer, but COVID-19 has made large gatherings extremely dangerous.

“It was really difficult at the time also, because my parents would not allow me to go out and go to any of the protests, just because they were worried about the pandemic and how it would affect big populations of people, just all congregating in one place,” said Francis.

Despite not being able to vote, getting creative and starting a small business is a way for teenage artists to make political change and spread awareness for BLM.

“I just really want to see the whole atmosphere change with how people view a lot of these communities because I feel like the light has been diminished in a lot of these communities,” said Francis. “And I just feel like we can be seen in such a more positive light,” 

Francis isn’t the only student who used a small business to advocate for justice; Ria Slater ‘21 said she raised money with her independent jewelry making business for the very same reason. 

Slater started Curly Cue Earrings back in Apr. of this year, an Etsy jewelry business where she makes earrings out of craft wire. Slater said this started as a creative outlet, but after the death of George Floyd and the proceeding protests, she proceeded to use her platform to raise awareness and funds for BLM.

“I felt like as a white person, I had to do way more than just like talk about it on social media,” said Slater. “And since I had a sort of small platform, I decided to just make little BLM earrings that spelled out BLM, and I didn’t take any of the money from it because that would have been horrible as a white person to just appropriate that saying, and take literally money from the death of black people.” 

Advocacy through her small business was Ria’s way of informing her audience of the issues that meant a lot to her. By selling a product geared towards young creative people and donating the funds to organizations fighting against racism and police brutality, more teens are becoming educated about these issues.

“I donated everything to campaign zero, which is an organization that uses their funds to try and implement study based solutions to police brutality,” said Slater.

The BLM movement has been making national and international headlines since June after the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. These protests have served as a learning opportunity for many non-BIPOC people. 12% of adults have said social media has changed their opinion on Black Lives Matter (Pew Research Center 2020).

“I have a responsibility to say what I can, and do what I can for those who cannot, like protect themselves and speak for themselves,” said Slater. 

Francis and Slater made their impact by donating funds from their small businesses, but there is more than one way to advocate. Casey Kowalsky ‘22 is a digital artist who uses her visual art to express herself and spread awareness for racial justice. 

“I try to be a good citizen by running this, but then also attaching art to it so people can really connect to it and spread it more. A lot of people really enjoy seeing visuals connected with activism, just because it’s something that hits deeper with a lot of people. It’s a lot more fun to spread the messages that we are trying to currently spread,” said Kowalsky