by Shaun Knittel -
SGN Associate Editor
Nearly two years ago, Social Outreach Seattle (SOSea) officials began working with a local photographer, Richard Wood (kapchure.us.photography) to create something new: photos that showcased the many different body types, gender expressions, and more, that make up the LGBTQ community. Since then, the social justice organization has held a number of different photo exhibits and town hall style meetings on LGBTQ and aging, Lesbian life, Gay agenda and more. Recently, however, a new topic has come into view: Race and social justice for the black community, #BLACKLIVESMATTER, in particular.
I first met Tyrone Brown, administrative coordinator for Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) for Seattle University, through a friend and student leader at University of Washington, Brian Tracey, one week before the decision not to indict the white police officer that shot and killed Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager in Ferguson, Missouri last August. Tracey was moderating a community conversation about the impact that Ferguson has had on Seattle. The discussion was important I think, and Tyrone Brown was the featured speaker and shared his story about traveling to Ferguson to march in solidarity with the protestors and to experience what was awakening in the nation in the wake of the tragic death. I immediately liked Brown; he is authentic.
Brown started at the university in 2007, working in the President's Office and then Student Development. After earning his MFA in Arts Leadership in 2010, he participated in a directing fellowship with the Drama League in New York. Returning to the university in 2011, he worked in Center for Justice in Society before taking on his current role. He says working in CAPS affords him a different perspective on SU's mission to care for the whole person. 'I also appreciate working in an environment that provides space for my artistic endeavors and allows me to grow personally, professionally and artistically.'
As a white Gay male I know that - although it has had a profound effect on us all - this is not my fight. But I also understand that I have privilege and that means if I care, then I must be a good ally. If I am going to be a good ally then I need to know when to help and how to help. I have learned, as many of you have, or will, to ask. Ask when. Ask how. No more, and for sure, no less. At this moment in our history, and especially during the #BLACKLIVESMATTER movement, the last thing anybody needs right now is white people telling everybody what to do and how to do it. Although it was hard, I waited.
I got an email recently from Brown and Tracey requesting to meet with me and Social Outreach Seattle about race issues in Seattle and to brainstorm about how we, in our own little way, could change things or make them better. Finally, we met the day after Christmas in my Capitol Hill apartment for nearly three hours. The initial meeting was slated for one hour. Suffice to say we each had a lot to say and ideas began to flow.
When Brown asked me how SOSea could fit into all this I wasn't quite sure. I mean, I do run a social justice nonprofit, yes. But with all the hands in the pot and the sometimes aimless demonstrations that seem to drift off into nothingness and irritate holiday commuters, the question actually tripped me up for a moment. Then I thought about how I view black lives. Or, in fact, do I think about them at all? Then it hit me - obviously, unless you are a hateful bigoted person - black lives matter because all lives matter. But what do we see when we, non-blacks, look at our black neighbors, friends, classmates, etc.? Do we see the thug that mass media wants us to? What about the thief that will steal your purse if you are a white woman? Or how about the sassy nanny, popping her gum and snapping her fingers and saying everything with that pop culture 'You go, girl!' style we love so much. Or do we just see another human being; someone trying to make it in this world? Or how about a loving son, daughter or father? Maybe a veteran, or hell - a police officer?
I explained Social Outreach Seattle's Body Diversity Photo Project to Tracey and Brown and we all agreed that this was a perfect fit for something that Brown call's Moral Monday's at Seattle University. Brown said that he has designed the get-together to share ideas and feelings and really create a space where people can talk honestly about morals, ethics, and all the things were aren't supposed to talk about at the dinner table. In short - real talk. No bullshit. Just ... education without prejudice and opinion without ignorance. I was sold on the idea.
On March 2, Social Outreach Seattle, in cooperation with Moral Mondays and Tyrone Brown present #BLACKLIVESMATTER Body Diversity Photo Project and community discussion. Moral Mondays officially begins January 26, according to Brown. Other topics include: The Pilgrimage, Erased: Community Conversation with Women and Girls of Color; HANDS UP!: 6 Playwrights, 6 Testaments; MLK Jr. sole visit; OMA Workshop w/Chad Goller Sojourner; Ferguson Update; Theology after Ferguson (sponsored by Campus Ministry); Slave Ship (art installation); Selma (the movie) Viewing and Dinner Night; Trayvon Martin remembrance; Malcolm X and/or James Baldwin event; Memorial Service (for Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Renisha McBride, etc.); Open We Carry / Carry We Openly; Kathya Alexander (stories of the Civil Rights Movement); Sharing of Amnesty International Report on Ferguson; Possible Law School event; to name a few.
For now, Social Outreach Seattle (SOSea) will begin taking submissions for #BLACKLIVESMATER Body Diversity Photo Project. The rules are there are no rules but one - the work(s) you submit must be your own and they should be representative of #BLACKLIVESMATTER. What does that mean to you? Is it just an activist saying? How do you visualize #BLACKLIVESMATTER? We will accept art in the form of photos, drawings, paintings and sculptures. There is no limit to the number of pieces any artist can submit and there is no age requirement; #BLACKLIVESMATTER Body Diversity Project is open to everyone. If your work(s) get chosen to be one or more of the 25 pieces in the exhibit, then you will be asked to be present and take place in the discussion at the event. If you would like to take part in this cooperative community event, please send an email to SocialOutreachSeattle@gmail.com.
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