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Student addresses racist comments with art exhibit

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King Legacy award recipient

By Carly Jones

The 2018 King Legacy Youth Leadership award winner Carly Jones, who is a senior at Seven Hills School in Cincinnati, read the following essay at the 2018 King Legacy Breakfast on January 15 at the Freedom Center after being named one of the King Legacy Youth Leadership scholarship winners. She is a graduate of the center’s youth docent program. Jones plans to attend Duke University and major in biology, women’s studies and African American studies. Her parents are Cindy and Lowell Jones. Her essay follows:

Dr. Martin Luther King once said, “I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality… I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.”

I believe Dr. King was a man who dedicated his life to the ongoing struggle for racial equity, for truth, for justice, and for an appreciation of diversity. He advocated non-violence, serving as a vessel of unabashed love in the face of a nation who robbed him of his humanity and labeled him a criminal simply by way of his skin color.

His movement and his dream are in no way restricted to his lifetime or in the years immediately following. Rather, his message serves as universal model for behavior, applicable not only in waging war against a political and social climate hostile to the needs of the African American community, but also in communicating an air of confidence and grace within our everyday context.

Recently, I decided to wear my natural hair to school. The stubborn curl of my Afro, that I had once wished to exile in hopes of conforming to a Eurocentric standard, was an aspect of myself that I had come to tentatively love and take pride in.

However, at school and beyond, my hair was not met with this same love. I was called a “clown” by my peers and often subject to taunts likening my hair to broccoli or pubic hair. When I attempted to convey the hurt I felt as a result of this intolerance, I was dismissed by, “Can’t you take a joke?”

One day, while I was delivering a presentation to my history class, a student held up a picture of broccoli, taking away the authority of my presentation. The imposition of this closed-minded standard of beauty was intimidating for a girl with gravity-defying curls who aspired to break through such barriers.

It was then that Dr. King’s legacy resonated with me. While I may not be waging war against Jim Crow, I indeed must articulate and defend what is important to me as an African American woman with love rather than hate. In the spirit of non-violence, in the spirit of creation and positivity, I resolved to create a multi-media art collection that expanded beyond my own testimony, and included the larger struggles of my community.

Beautiful in Broccoli. Provided by Carly Jones

One of those paintings is titled Beautiful in Broccoli, in which I have depicted a girl who rocks her broccoli hair, and possesses complete ownership of her identity.

6018. Provided by Carly Jones

Another painting titled 6018, is tied to the fact that approximately 60 percent of African American women younger than 18 will be sexually assaulted by the time they reach adulthood. Once, I shared my artwork with two women, and they both said that they had been assaulted. This 60 percent is not simply a statistic; it is somebody’s sister, somebody’s daughter. We must work to heal and protect our vulnerable Black girls.

 

Miss Lifeguard. Provided by Carly Jones

A third painting is titled Miss Lifeguard. In my experience as a lifeguard at a pool frequented by a predominantly African Americans, I noticed a trend in that a large deal of African American children are non-swimmers. Upon further research, I found that compared to the 40 percent of Caucasian children, 70 percent of African American children cannot swim. I want our children to look at the water and to feel safe and supported, unlike this girl depicted, who is distressed and completely alone.

I would like to conclude with a quote by Dr. King: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

This message has colored my personal growth, as I am not a product of my environment anymore. Rather, this environment is the product of the positive energy I invest in my community through my artwork. I will build upon this portfolio throughout my senior year, and create a platform for distributing my artwork, and by extension, the love I have to share.

Editor’s note:

Matthew Bolton. principal at Seven Hills High School, who we contacted after hearing Jones’ essay, said, “Carly Jones is in every sense an extraordinary, multi-talented student, who is active in school clubs and proud of her scholarship, her writing and this award.’’

In response to her article, Bolton said, “We are trying to teach students in their releationships with other students and in the world to act with respect for others and to not diparage others about their race, gender or faith.

“In Carly’s case, she reponded to these comments through her artwork. We have advised her about how she can get help, for we do not want anyone saying any disparaging things about her,’’ he said.

Bolton said the school approaches situations like this in two ways. One involves some type of disciplinary action for the students involved. A second approach is to educate students about racial issues, as has been done through a speakers series for Black History Month, showing the recent movie Hidden Figures in which African American women who were diparaged as they performed key work in developing the atomic bomb, and a summer reading program featuring books that deal with racial issues.The school year began with a discussion about the racial conflict in Charlottesville, Va., when White supremicists clashed with people at a protest against Confederate monuments, he said.

“We want to create a generation that realizes that diversity and inclusion are the great strengths of our country and that the American story is about the extension of rights to everyone,’’ Bolton said.

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