Health is inner peace. Healing is letting go of fear. This is one of the Principles of Attitudinal Healing, created by mental health professionals in Tiburon in the 70s to help children with life threatening illnesses use their minds to heal their bodies. For decades, ArtEsteem has utilized the power of these principles in art classes in Oakland to help young people address and heal from the life-threatening presence of racism and violence in their communities.
Today, gun violence is a national epidemic, and the United States is suffering deeply from its wounds. Every year, nearly 3,000 children and teens (ages 0 to 19) are shot and killed and approximately 15,600 are shot and injured. On average, 51 American children and teens are shot every day. In a recent national poll, 75 percent of high school students aged 15 to 17 cited mass shootings as a primary source of stress, and more than one in five reported that the possibility of a shooting at the school is a source of stress on a day-to-day basis. In a time when our children are needed to create a better future for their communities and the world, they are traumatized and anxious for their safety. How can young people embody things like hope and peace when they are busy recovering from trauma and their future is so uncertain? Can our youth use their minds to heal not just their minds and bodies, but their communities from the root causes of gun violence?
Vision Quilt and ArtEsteem have come together because they believe that through the act of art-making and public expression Oakland youth can both heal from the trauma of gun violence and contribute to its prevention. Daytime art sessions are taught by seasoned artists with the aid of circles, talking pieces and the Principles of Attitudinal Healing. We have chosen the collaborative quilt as the form to follow, for its association with family, comfort, community, nurture, protection and recovery. The textile curriculum offers exposure to art and craft techniques like applique, lettering and portraiture, as well an encounter with the great talent of American quilters like Oakland's own Marion Coleman (recently deceased), Faith Ringgold, Jesse Telfare, and Bisa Butler, whose quilts tell stories, honor individuals, and send urgent messages.
We are also grateful to have the support of local activists, such as Marilyn Washington Harris from the Khadafy Washington Foundation. Ms. Harris lost her son to gun violence in West Oakland almost 20 years ago, and created the Khadafy Washington Foundation out of an urgent need for resources serving victim’s survivors. During her visit, we learned that nearly 70% of students enrolled in our program had directly been affected by gun violence. They shared their stories and were given space to strategize solutions. Our Oakland students will be delivering their stories and messages to the nation when their school quilt is exhibited locally, and nationally with other Vision Quilt art submissions across the country.
Keep your eyes on Vision Quilt. It was born of inspiration from the 54 tons of quilts created during the AIDS epidemic, and is actively accepting commissions of quilt panels on the subject of gun violence prevention from artists of all ages. Through this national organization our youth have an opportunity to join forces and voices with the many youth around the country that have mobilized to effect change in public policy, gun ownership laws, gun safety efforts and help to create ways.to encourage a culture of acceptance and watchfulness in school communities to help prevent school shootings.
Right: Images curtesy of Vision Quilt
If you are local to the East Bay you may recognize the work of ArtEsteem for the beauty and creativity that their students, with support from OUSD and the City of Oakland, have brought to our streets in the form of storytelling murals under the freeway at San Pablo, Market and West Streets in West Oakland at the Emeryville border. ArtEsteem has been offering art classes and workshops to students in the Bay area for over 20 years. Their programs promote personal empowerment, a deepened understanding of the structural challenges of racism and violence in our communities, and help our youth to create a path to personal and collective healing and a toolkit for problem solving and prevention.
Nan Eastep, October 2019
Nan is a teaching artist and board member of AHC. She brings expertise and experience in fiber arts, textiles, handcraft tailoring and industrial design. Eastep is also co-founder of City Slicker Farms in West Oakland.