Grassroots partners with various organizations and businesses globally to create merch that matters. This particular collaboration local in Chicago and relevant, now more than ever. Presenting the National Youth Art Movement Against Gun Violence (NYAM) collaboration: a hat that combines art and activism. Grassroots California sponsored the “LETGO Racism” campaign this Spring, producing this limited-edition snapback (LE100) which features student artwork that depicts diverse perspectives on the issue of gun violence.
In Chicago in 2016, there were over 4000 gun violence deaths and more than half of the victims were between ages 16-25. An even more staggering statistic is the percentage of those victims that were people of color. These devastating losses speak to the conditions of Chicago-students’ learning environments as well as the pressures of growing up in urban communities, a problem relatable across America. Homicide makes up more than 35% of gun-violence related deaths, most of who are African American males. “Stop killing each other,” doesn’t come close to unpacking the years of racial injustice and societal bias that come with the conversation of gun-violence. Real solutions will require implementing multiple strategies that target people affected and spread awareness to community members around them.
50% of these hat sales will go directly to NYAM’s solution, educating the community most at-risk: high school students. “History shows that youth who are bullied and youth who bully others are five times more likely to want to carry a weapon for a sense of protection,” says NYAM founder, Janice Tisha Samuels, so educating students in schools seems perfectly appropriate and necessary. This curriculum project would be tested in 5 Chicago schools but could eventually standardize gun-violence education across the nation. “The curriculum aims to promote a grassroots culture shift in schools that discourages bullying, hatred, and isolation,” a Cook County reporter concluded, and “instead, supports the development of peer-to-peer compassionate communities.” (Beese, 2020).
Art speaks and Grassroots couldn’t agree more! NYAM works with local youth to create art that will confront the issue and inspire conversations between kids, teens, and the larger community. Murals on buildings and billboards have been a great urban canvas to do so! The pieces are unavoidable in an urban city and, contrary to other media, one can’t “shut it off”. As pedestrians, bikers, drivers, and residents see the powerful images depicting gun violence and its impact, awareness and ideally accountability spreads. One way NYAM is modernizing its art installations is by incorporating an AR (augmented reality) experience with each piece. Using a mobile phone, passers-by can virtually interact with each image to reveal even more powerful imagery. These enhancements are meant to kickstart conversations, advocate for change, and ultimately inspire a new perspective towards children, people of color, and victims of gun violence. One example of artwork downtown features faceless young, brown-skin men whose bodies seemingly disappear into the urban landscape. The piece represents the number of young men that go missing and fall victim to gun violence. The augmented reality experience takes this artwork even further showing tombstones where each of the men once stood and leaves us with a sinking feeling and powerful reminder of how permanent, tragic, and widespread these losses are. Another piece on a billboard includes an ominous city skyline with sneakers tied to the telephone wires. The augmented reality experience adds more and more pairs of shoes, in memoriam of peers lost to gun violence. It helps us identify personally with individual victims and understand how serious and local this issue is. The other 50% of hat sales will directly to these contributing artists: Chicago students and activists, ages 13-28. Their artwork is featured on the satin-lining of the hat, as well as the logos on the outside.
As we reflect on the current civil rights movement and consider how racism impacts men, women, children and POC in our communities, let us also make sure we’re part of the solution. How can you help? Purchase a “LETGO Racism” hat to help fund NYAM’s gun violence prevention education campaign. Support youth groups and young artists whose art speaks to real community issues and demands action. Spread awareness by having conversations about gun violence with friends, family, and most importantly, kids and teenagers. Be available to support POC who are struggling or neighbors who are grieving. Speak up when injustice or racism is present, and most importantly, be kind. I leave you with the question NYAM asks best: “What will your legacy be?”.