Monthly Mentor

Natalie C. Jones (February)
Each month, a different member is the guest writer for the NAEA Monthly Mentor Blog. Natalie C. Jones is an artist, small business owner, and the director of education at the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture. She has 10 years of experience working as an art teacher and teaching artist throughout the east coast and the Midwest. Click "GO" to read her full bio.

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June 09, 2020

The Power of Student Voice

By Krissy Ponden

If you know me, you know I talk a lot about the power of student voice to be a catalyst for change. I truly believe that the work that desperately needs to be done has to start with our young people. We have seen how children can make a difference from the Birmingham Children’s March, to March for Our Lives, to Greta Thunberg and the countless young BIPOC climate activists before her; youth is not a barrier to understanding, and oftentimes it is those who do not yet have the bias of experience who are able to imagine new possibilities and work fervently for positive change.

Each year, my 7th and 8th graders participate in a collaborative art and humanities project we call Voices for Change. They are tasked with identifying and researching a social or environmental justice issue they feel passionate about and then creating a conceptual art piece that speaks to it. It is not hyperbolic to say this has been transformative for many of them. In addition to art, students also write artist statements that are displayed alongside their work advocating for specific goals. These middle school students open up about their personal experiences with racism, the fallacy of social and gender norms, their fears about the world they are to inherit, and their sobering understanding that gun rights are seemingly valued more than student lives. In years when we are able, we mount the exhibition in a gallery space outside of school because these projects deserve attention and this experience deserves to be authentic right through its culmination.

This year, because of our state-ordered shut down, Voices was mounted in a virtual rather than physical gallery space. This offered the opportunity for the exhibit to reach a wider audience than in the past. Here is a selection of works from the show along with quotes from the artists. 

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“The fate of wrongfully incarcerated people rests on the willingness of our society to speak up and help advocate for those who have not had a chance to do so themselves.“
Krystle, 8th grade, Guilty as Charged, 2020

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“So what will be the outcome of this pandemic? Will it help us be more careful around others when sick to keep everyone safe? Will it create a world where we are more distant from each other? Or can we choose to see the positive outcomes that can result if we work together to reimagine our future?” Lexie, 8th grade, The Vibrancy of Life Diminishing, 2020

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“If we let plastic production continue unchecked, then more and more animals will be endangered, and we could end up erasing species that we never even knew existed.” Madeline, 7th grade, Plastic Ocean, 2020

Listen to these students and others talk about their artwork during the 2020 Voices of Change Virtual Reception. These kids have something to say, and it is our job as the adults who are guiding them to become thoughtful, passionate, and empathetic people, to listen.

-KP

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