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Justice for George: Breaking Barriers, Building Bonds

This year, the 3rd Annual Justice for George 2023: Breaking Barriers, Building Bonds was hosted and celebrated on May 27th and 28th. The event was reimagined as a public retreat with a goal to activate the murals as a vessel to spark conversation around mental health and holistic healing practices within Black, Brown, and communities of color to recover from the effects of the 2020 uprising and the COVID-19 global pandemic.

Over the last two years, Memorialize the Movement (MTM) has hosted our annual Justice for George exhibition to commemorate George Floyd’s life and legacy by providing a space for healing and creativity for our Black, Brown, Indigenous, and other communities of color. Justice for George 2021 and 2022 were large-scale exhibitions that took place in Phelps Field Park with many elements including live muralists, musical performances, and a resource fair of community organizations.

This year’s event took part over two days, featuring a mural display of the panels in our stewardship, a panel discussion of artists discussing the intersection of mental health and art, holistic health professionals demonstrating their respective practices, musical performances, wellness vendors, as well as our monthly Paint to Express (PTE) workshop and an interactive mural painting. It's estimated that 300+ individuals cycled through the exhibit over the duration of the two days.

Staying true to our mission, the murals were the focal point of this event. The creation of these murals during the 2020 uprising was not only a form of protest, but one of holistic healing, where painting on the plywood panels of boarded-up storefronts provided community members a way to express themselves during a tumultuous time on their own terms. We honor the legacy of Mr. Floyd and the artists who created the murals by using this year's event to highlight the holistic healing resources that our community needs.

Day 1: Breaking Barriers

For the opening day, we centered on breaking down systemic practices within the museum industry that prevent Black, Brown, and communities of other color from accessing the arts and seeing themselves represented in art. In the gallery space, we had unconventional murals on display which included two mirror displays; “Black Boy Joy” and “Black Girl Magic”, paper pasted plywood mural with a picture of two kids “Hey Black Child”, a half-painted overlapped mural which was interactive and open to community members to paint on “BLM”, and a restored mural which was once part of a fence.

Plywood Quilt and PTE

For the PTE, we delivered a chapter out of a historically tumultuous time to our attendees. This chapter was one where a plywood panel was sitting in front of you alongside paint and brushes. A chapter where you had no restrictions or limitations as to what you can paint and what you can say. A chapter where you were in control of your own emotions. This chapter situated you in the direct view of a powerful mural stating “Black Lives Matter: Open Your Eyes”. You open your eyes and begin to paint.

We saw that many attendees felt safe in the space we created for them to paint and express their emotions on plywood. After painting their mini mural, we gave them the option to either take their mini mural home or add it to the Plywood Quilt of murals in the front gallery. The response was incredible, with many community members deciding to add it to the quilt of murals. It was amazing to see the smile and joy they held as we allowed them to continue on the chapter of expressing themselves through mural art. From deciding what to paint, and then painting the piece, to pasting it on the wall, our people were able to reignite the chapter that still burns on low flames to this day within the representation of us in cultural expressions. Thereby allowing us to break the barrier that stands between our access to such art forms and creating a safe space for ourselves by us.

Towards the end of the night, we held a panel discussion with our three panelists, Christopher E. Harrison, Lissa Karpeh, and Christopheraaron Deanes. The discussion was centered on “Art in Action: A Discussion about the intersections between art, education, and mental wellbeing”. We got to hear first-hand experience and take on why each of the panelists began to do the work and the emotions towards their work. One moment that struck with us was when Christopheraaron Deanes stated that he could have been the one killed instead of Mr. Floyd, he saw himself in Mr. Floyd’s eyes, the last breadth that was taken could have been his instead of Mr. Floyd’s. A striking silence fell over the audience and we had to take a moment to realize the weight of the true words spoken.

From the initial taste of Shui Project’s food, we knew they were perfect for day one at Justice for George. The Shui Project strives to embody the fluidity and adaptability of water to best meet community needs. The food served by The Shui Project is a breath of breaking barriers in itself. From the warm konbini-style bowl of rice to the hot sizzling shiitake mushrooms bursting with flavor, the smooth touch and palette alertness from the chili oil, mesmerized with fresh microgreens and vegetables, and dry seaweed flakes, at the end you receive this warm food hug that makes you appreciate the little things in life.

Please make sure to check out The Shui Project as they continue to host pop-ups and collaborate with local artists, organizations and healers. We truly want to thank The Shui Project team for catering at our event as we still remember the taste of the food like the power of fluid water.

Day 2: Building Bonds

Day one was such a success that we walked into day two with nothing but high hopes and expectations. Building Bonds was an opportunity to celebrate our community and uplift the artists, performers, vendors, and wellness practitioners who are doing the important work of healing our community so that we can keep thriving. We reminded ourselves that rest is a radical act of protest. The sole purpose of hosting this day was to give our community a chance to rest and experience joy.

For day 2 we had performers, wellness vendors, wellness practitioners, an MTM mural exhibition inside, an interactive mural painting with Crystal Sokuu, live muralists, and catering by Papa J’s Kitchen and Goods.

The day began with Kalpulli Tlaloctecuhtli, a queer-led Aztec dance group that focuses on conserving their traditions through Danza, songs, drumming, traditional medicine and storytelling. Kalpulli Tlaloctecuhtli means the supreme energy of the rain, lightning and thunder. With an opening ceremony starting from the back entrance to a leading procession of the Danza group to the middle gallery space.

The Danza group’s performance delivered joy throughout the ceremony, spreading powerful kinetic and emotional energy, a heightened sense of awareness of our space, and helped to salve the wounds left over from the uprising. During the middle of the performance, the group invited the attendees to also come in and follow a few simple steps of the Danza routine. It was heartwarming to see that many attendees tried their best footwork and actually kept up with the group! At the end of the performances, Kalpulli Tlaloctecuhtli gave each MTM team member a calendar with special dates to commemorate within Aztec culture. To learn more about the danza group, check out Kalpulli Tlaloctecuhtli’s Instagram.

The wellness vendors who participated at our exhibit included: Shara Baked, Flawless by Queen D, Big Bubbe Energy, Atlas Defense, and Tay’s Secret Garden.

Each vendor respectively focused on improving and promoting physical, spiritual, and mental health that is not easily accessible to communities of color and Black and Brown people. As a Black, Brown, and POC team, we know how often we tend to neglect our personal well-being all the time and it becomes a natural occurrence that we learn to accept. But not this time. This was the first Justice for George where the entire team felt like they could take in the surroundings, take time to shop around the galleries, talk to the vendors about their products, support their businesses, and have time to reflect on the importance of having a close-knit community.

Priscilla Momah of Coco Womb Wellness brought us a gentle and relaxing reiki session. Reiki is a Japanese healing technique that promotes relaxation and balance in the body. During a session attendees felt sensations of warmth, tingling or deep relaxation.

Dakota Blankenship is an intuitive healing artist. They strive to foster a community-centered culture rooted in honesty, patience, and kindness. Their massages were so relaxing amidst the sound bath and they helped attendees address aches and pains in their bodies.

Soul Speaks encompassed the atmosphere with their sound healing, an ancient concept, also known as sound meditation or sound bathing. During this healing sound bath workshop, attendees were invited to sit with Tamiko as she played her instruments. It was amazing to see that other participants and attendees enjoyed the moments of sound bath with Tamiko. It rejuvenated our senses, brought a sense of calm, and grounded us all in the space.

The Loving Light, Vibrant Hues, and Priscilla Momah gave such powerful performances! Through their music and the meaningful lyrics in their songs, the performers reminded us of our beauty and power, and encouraged us to repeat affirmations that teach kindness, compassion, and grace to ourselves and others. There was even a moment of community involvement by the audience where we were all able to sing along, repeating melodic affirmations with Priscilla. This beautiful moment brought tears to many eyes in the room, as she had us repeat loving affirmations to ourselves until they became true.