Black History Month: The Power of Youth Movements in Black History

This is part of The Gavel’s continuing coverage of Black History Month, where we are covering a multitude of events in February that focus on the history of Black students at BC and how they contribute to our collective identity, both in the past and the present.

Frank Garcia-Ornelas, GSSW ’16, was shifting on his feet, but only slightly. A lighthearted yet visibly devoted man, it was evident that he was excited to address the crowd that had formed in the O’Neill Level One Gallery. With a humble deep breath and his “mind going crazy,” Frank began: “They can call it something different but it’s still the same thing—a justice movement.”

Friday, February 6th was the unveiling of Frank’s socially charged art exhibit in a relatively quiet little division of the O’Neill Library. Located directly adjacent to the vending machines on the first floor, The Power of Youth Movements in Black History is a thought-provoking, visually striking endeavor. Frank’s exhibit is part of a series sponsored by the Thea Bowman AHANA Intercultural Center, the Vice President of Student Affairs and Boston College Libraries. The art initiative, spearheaded by the AHANA Center, serves to showcase student work, undergraduate or graduate, that the organization feels deserves particular recognition. Rosaleah Brown Gresham, the AHANA staff member present who introduced Frank and his work to the socially conscious faithful, said, “This particular exhibit was chosen because Frank accurately captured the power of youth movements in social justice.”

Evan Martinez / Gavel media

Evan Martinez / Gavel Media

Inspired by the (what seems like) scores of racially-charged events and issues of the past years, Frank sought to “get people to talk about the issue of race without being afraid to do it.” Though they are masterfully done, Frank coolly admitted during his brief speech that he completed the 12 digital art pieces in one weekend after he was struck by a sudden bout of inspiration. From Ferguson to Trayvon Martin, our nation’s sparking racial climate has raised issues for many Americans; issues that we do not want to face. Of course, this sad truth offers much for artists to work with. It is into this arena that Frank entered, hoping to capture the “griminess of the reality of it.” The “it” being the experience of growing up in America at the mercy of a “racial caste system.”

Evan Martinez / Gavel media

Evan Martinez / Gavel Media

Frank’s pieces present a message clear as day but somehow still uncomfortably wriggle-inducing: Black Lives Matter and we do not live in a post-racial society. It is a sad reality that racism today does not often come in blatant forms. Instead, we’ve seen a shift where systematic racism—an almost more devilish form of discrimination because it is essentially invisible—reigns supreme. Frank’s pieces, through their eye-catching representation of historic oppression and, sadly, realistic take on current events, present an educated plea to all: enough is enough. Though the artist is an easy-going character himself, his art contains the booming cries of generations of angry, determined oppressed folk with fists held high against the blood-spattered canvas of our nation’s history.

Though the exhibit sheds light on a certain issue that perverts our great country’s moral integrity, Frank’s ultimate goal is simply “dialogue through art.” He wants people to reconsider their thoughts on race relations and “look from the perspective of someone else.” Perhaps the O’Neill library is the perfect location to incorporate such a necessary dialogue on race into BC’s campus. Following the St. Louis grand jury decision to not indict Officer Darren Wilson for the killing of Michael Brown in November, students peacefully assembled in O’Neill to call for justice and shout the mantra that has become widely disseminated and steadfastly backed by those of the movement: “Black Lives Matter.” Now, months later, an artist takes a similar stand, and though the actual shouts are nonexistent in this case, the figurative call for justice rings loud and true in, appropriately, the hub of information and forward-thinking discourse that is O’Neill. The Power of Youth Movements in Black History is about as poignant an experience one is likely to have on a trip to the library.

Evan Martinez / Gavel media

Evan Martinez / Gavel Media

There was no denying the visible swell of pride Frank felt as he scanned the small crowd that braved the tundra for a couple of reasons that afternoon—to admire his work and the gravely important message he preached. The artist knew his goal was realized, proudly proclaiming, “You just can’t go anywhere and bring up race—so at least this gives everyone a space to talk about it.”

“The Power of Youth Movements in Black History” is open to the public and will run in the O’Neill Level One Gallery until the end of February.

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Evan Martinez