Every day I drive home from work down Grand Boulevard downtown, and no matter how hard or long the day might be, I smile around 12th Street.
Because 50 feet above me, the Angry Zebra lives on the Bonfils building.
Created by my friend Phil Shafer, the zebra looks like a chess piece. Its black and white stripes are bold and defiant, despite the red band of blood around its chest.
The Angry Zebra represents the biracial experience, the struggle with personal identity when you’re caught between two deeply conflicted communities. And it represents the strength to embrace yourself.
That’s the beauty of art. It can have the power to liberate, heal and unify. As activist Angela Davis once said, art “can propel people toward social emancipation.”
These are the kind of works that two local activist organizations, One Struggle KC and Una Lucha KC, want to help the community create at a free art and healing event Saturday in KCK. Their Express Yourself/Exprésate, funded by the Rocket Grant, is the first in a series of four events to encourage artistic expression in activism.
“It’s about rejuvenation,” says Diane Burkholder, 35, a One Struggle KC leader. “You have to get your feelings out or it will eat you up alive.”
As brown and black communities come together to demand justice and equality, art can communicate the pain of the struggle and celebrate the resilience of the people.
Both groups were founded in 2014: One Struggle KC, because of the Ferguson protests; Una Lucha KC, shortly after the murders of 43 students in Mexico who were on their way to protest increased university fees when they were detained by police, turned over to a cartel, tortured and killed.
Celia Ruiz, an Una Lucha KC activist, says a place to draw, paint, listen to music and eat good food serves as an entry point to standing up for justice.
“Wherever you are in your awareness, everyone has a role. Everyone has a story and something to say,” says Celia, 36. “In the Mexican immigrant community, protesting and advocating for yourself has a terrible context. We want to redefine what activism looks like. We want to offer a space where you can say I’m brown and I’m proud, I’m black and I’m proud and I don’t have to apologize for it.”
In addition to providing art stations where families can participate in craft projects, the event will serve as the launch for the Black Lives Matter and ¡Ayotzinapa Vive! coloring books designed by local artists. The purpose is to not only make it easier to talk to children about heavy topics but also to give adults a therapeutic way to communicate their hardships and unite the brown and black communities.
“The communities have historically been very divided in Kansas City,” Celia says. “But our communities look the same from up top. When Ferguson happened, I didn’t have to be black for me to be hurt. When someone says black lives matter, I respect it. I get it. They do. Just like when I share the story of the 43 students, the solidarity is immediate. They understand. We have a mutual respect for humanity.
“The best thing I can do to help One Struggle and the Black Lives Matter movement is talk to my family, my friends and raise awareness.”
Diane says people think civil rights movements are about voter registration and building police-community relationships. Those are essential, but so are unifying marginalized communities and ending the divisiveness of racism, homophobia and sexism.
“We think we are alone in our struggles,” she says. “But we are not. We’ve been taught to not put our pieces together because there is strength in numbers, and our solidarity can help dismantle oppression and inequality.”
You don’t have to be black or brown to be involved. You just have to be open to celebrating people who don’t look like you and recognizing their rights.
That’s America. We come from all over the world. We’re all colors, orientations, genders and faiths. And like art, that’s a beautiful thing.