Anyone who knows me, knows that I breathe art. Not just through the paintings and drawings I love to make. It is in the frequencies I listen to; the words I write in 100 journals; random dancing in the kitchen with my siblings; the movies I get lost in with friends; the books that transport me to other worlds; the pictures that capture a fleeting moment or the light inside of a person. It is the breathtaking graffiti I could stare at for hours in the streets of New York, my home. 

Art is everywhere, and throughout my whole life, I saw how it brought out the best in people. Growing up in Brooklyn, I could sense from a young age how important art was to those who had experienced absolute loss, heartbreak, violence, and oppression for so long. It gave them something to hold on to: an escape from everything, a way to face the pain they were feeling or to be free from it, create something out of what they had. Sometimes, it was just for pure fun.

Painting of a female with white eyesI saw the ways in which mental health issues were aided by artistic expression in my family, allowing us to heal from generational trauma. The music and culture that we could relate to, the food we ate, block parties, late-night dance battles, the murals on our buildings -- all of it is a sacred language we cannot forget. It is a part of us. It helped us make something magical in a city that is really tough to survive in, which is why it has molded some of the greatest artists of all time. This taught me the importance of creating rather than destroying, especially with hardship and limitations. 

Art allows us to take in what we know, imagine what is not there and bring it to life. It is the thought behind every image -- or sound, or performance -- the emotion beneath it that moves you to think or act. Art is this never-ending domino effect of human expression influencing more human expression, pushing our world to progress rather than stand still. It seeks the truth, it pulls us closer together. If you look a little closer, you begin to see art in everything, including yourself, and you will realize that it is so much more beautiful than the simple aesthetic of things. 

Abstract black, green, red and orange artworkArt can be this incredible source of power in you, a voice you didn't know you had. You can choose to use it for good in this world, to look at this society that has been constructed before you and question it, criticize it, wonder at it, change it. You can do that with yourself as well. Discover a whole universe inside of you waiting to be uncovered. 

Self expression is an essential part of our mental and emotional health, our overall growth as people. My artist journey so far has really just been my life journey. There were times when I could not find the energy to do anything, but I somehow had the energy to pick up a small paintbrush and make colors move across a page. It was my meditation, but, more importantly, it was my way of recovering from painful experiences by processing my feelings about them. I soon realized my passion for bringing the healing qualities of art into other people’s lives, and highlighting the art of marginalized groups in all spaces. 

Red, black and white painting that includes the words: love, super black power, rude awakening, todayThis is such a crucial time to fight for freedom, the equal treatment we are entitled to, and make this world a better place for everyone. We have the resources. We have the passion. We need more empathy, honesty, introspection, and a willingness to embrace real change together. We need to be thoroughly informed to engage with politics. I know that art and education will be a huge part of this continued movement towards liberation, so we must keep investing in both, especially in our underfunded black and brown communities. 

I am so grateful to be working with Americans for the Arts and ArtPride New Jersey this summer, because this is the exact work that they are committed to. It has been rewarding to be surrounded by others committed to saving the arts throughout this devastating global pandemic, much loss, and ongoing protests against degrading, violent, racist systems in this country. I have to keep going because I have so much work left to do and art left to create.