Tag Archives: gun control

History Is No Mystery: Artist, Shea Justice, at The Fountain Street Gallery, Boston

17 Jun

On May 14th, ten Black women and men, including an 86 year-old grandmother, were murdered at a grocery store in Buffalo, New York by a young, white supremacist man with an automatic rifle. Shortly afterward on May 24th, 19 children and two teachers were killed in a mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas. All the while, local Board of Education seats are being filled with white folks supported by parents who fear their children will be called racist in lessons on critical race theory, and, majority white gun owners continue to fight against gun restriction laws, claiming the Second Amendment protects their rights to perpetuate this country’s history of violence.

History is no mystery.

In his solo exhibition, History Is No Mystery, a collection of beautiful and riveting works in watercolor and collage, Boston-based fine artist, Shea Justice, shows us the history of the United States from its so- called founding days to today. He shows us that the shooting in Buffalo, the murder of George Floyd, of Eric Garner, of Sandra Bland, of Emmett Till, the execution of 14-year old George Stinney, the breaking of hundreds of treaties between colonists and countless Native American tribes, the history of enslavement, and all the more covert ways our country has embedded systems of oppression in all facets of American life over the centuries, are not isolated incidents. They are our history. They are the truth of our country’s story. They are the stories that we keep hidden. They are the stories excluded from our history books—the lessons not taught in our schools.

Shea’s work which another viewer of the exhibition called, delicately devastating, reveals this history. Witnessing the exhibit, I was drawn in through the juxtaposition of the sheer beauty of Shea’s renderings coupled with the jarring power of the truths revealed in the collaged text elements embedded in many of the works. As a white woman who grew up during the end of the civil rights era, I see through the lens of my identity and experience, and was reminded of the waking up to the fullness of our country’s history of race over the years of my life’s journey, an awakening and reckoning that will continue throughout my lifetime.

Several of the works in the exhibit have an enlarged copy of the United States Constitution serving as the background on which Shea paints a historical figure on top of the document. Surrounding the figure, Shea collages text from newspaper clippings and other sources which counter the narrative we project about a country where we are all supposed to have a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. One of these pieces features a portrait of formerly enslaved abolitionist, and women’s right activist, Sojourner Truth. The portrait, which is painted over the center of the Constitution, is surrounded by collaged bits of text. One phrase says, Free, White, and 21, a familiar line that showed up in a lot of 1930’s and 40’s films reflecting the ultimate stance of white privilege.  Other clippings note the gerrymandering of voting districts, lynchings, and a quote from Supreme Court Justice, “Black students don’t need affirmative action because they benefit from a ‘slower track.’”

The bit of text that stood out for me in the Sojourner Truth piece was a paragraph of text in the lower left corner with the headline, Nixon Aide Reportedly Admitted Drug War Was Meant to Target Black People.  I remember when I read this article somewhere a few years ago. It reminded me of a talk I had with an old high school friend, Jay, when I first started this blog ten years ago. I reached out to Jay, who is Black, to share about our experiences at school, and on growing up in Waterbury, Connecticut, and how they might have been different, and the same, from one another’s. He told me of a time his guidance counselor told him he shouldn’t try to take the Latin class he was interested in. We also got into deeper structural talks about race, including how drugs were brought into Black neighborhoods by the government to destroy those neighborhoods. I remember hearing that before, and I believed it, but it was on this, oh, almost non-chalant, numb, level.

I lived in New York City in the 1980’s and 1990’s, and witnessed the devastation and especially, the criminalization of crack cocaine, during what was called “the crack epidemic,” on people in Black communities and communities of color. One can look at the way the current “opioid crisis” is being afforded the lens of compassion and humanity with a call for treatment over criminalization, and again, we see that history is no mystery.

Jay and I talked again during the last election season. During our conversation on all that was going on with police killings of unarmed Black people, and the inequities that still exist for Black people in this country, Jay said, ‘…I was trying to tell you….” And he was. And he did. And still, as someone who feels that the matter of liberating ourselves from racial injustice is the most important matter in our lives, it still took me time to say, to feel, oh…Oh…OHHHH! in the face of our history. I believe, as white people who continue to benefit from the way our country was formed and continues to operate, we cannot wait any longer, or need any more proof that we need to make things just in our country for all of us. Our inaction is complicity in upholding white supremacy.


Witnessing Shea’s exhibit, amplified for me the importance of bearing witness to this truth. The exhibit also drove the point that, I know as a white person, it can be easy to only see the pain of the “story” of Black people in this country, and to render invisible, the everyday lives of Black people as individuals—the successes, the joys, the individual humanity of Black people. I know I am forever working on widening my lens from the binary, the all-or-nothing thinking and seeing lens which I can fall into. This, too, is because of the history of this country, which put white people and whiteness at the center, as superior, as the norm. A history which created laws and systems that fostered segregation, despite school desegregation laws, and fostered inequities in housing, education, employment, and economic standing.

In History Is No Mystery, Shea has works, mostly collages, woven throughout the exhibit that are personal, complex, and layered. Also featured are watercolor portraits of icons, including Maya Angelou, and Muhammed Ali.  Upon entering the show, I was met with three of Shea’s personal works– smaller pieces—collages containing photos, magazine cutouts, and a few three-dimensional objects–a shelf of 1990’s cassette tapes including Public Enemy, John Lennon, Michael Jackson and The Rolling Stones, and a doll-house sized picnic table. The artifacts and photos are recollections of Shea’s family reunions, extended family, and his own coming of age. Family photos, 70’s cartoons, Black, and white television and film characters, pop culture and sports figures–a lot of it was a part of my growing up landscape too. A small text panel within one of the collages shares a history of Shea’s family dating back to the 1800’s. Shea generously shared some recollections of his family picnics, and the fact that these collages were begun when Shea was in the hospital last year after a bad car accident. The first collage actually contains a copy of one of Shea’s x-rays. He said he saved all of them. The x-rays a record of his accident, the collages a record of his family, of being American, of Black life in America.

All of these works are a record, and they serve as history, which Shea is set on documenting, if only we all are willing to see it. In History Is No Mystery, a portion of a project that Shea has been working on for the past twenty years was also featured, by way of video display. Scrolls of Justice, as they are called, are miles of rice paper scrolls dense with illustrations, paintings, handwritten text and collage that Shea began during the 2000 George Bush elections. Another documentation of history which Shea continues to work on, with hopes that this artistic recording of our nation’s true history will one day be displayed in the Smithsonian Museum. I know that I want to view more of the scrolls, and hope that they make it to the museum, so that many more people can witness, learn, reckon with, repair, begin to heal, and work to forge a history that is truly about freedom and justice for all of us.


History Is No Mystery is showing at The Fountain Street Gallery, 460C Harrison Avenue, Suite 2, Boston, MA through June 26th, with an Artist Talk with Shea on Sunday, June 19th, 2 – 4 pm. (click link to watch the livestream)

getting to meet the artist, Shea Justice

The Unsurprise of Injustice. Now What?

22 Nov

Justice was not served in the Kyle Rittenhouse case. Or our American (in)justice system worked the way it most often does: protecting and upholding white supremacy law and order.

The message was sent, loud and clear. If you are a young, white male, you can carry an assault weapon to a racial justice protest in the name of protecting property, and “backing the Blue.” You can walk the streets of the city and kill protestors, and all you have to do afterward is say you were there to protect good ol’ America from the bad protestors, and gosh golly, yes you even had to shoot and kill a couple of people, because they were trying to stop you from patrolling and protecting property, and were coming after you, and you had to defend yourself from the people–white, Black or Brown, who are ruining this country with their fight for humanity, freedom, and truth-telling history, and on top of that, getting in the way of you shooting and killing innocent people.

In the wake of the acquittal verdict, I read news articles and opinion pieces, and landed on a blog post published by author, non-profit executive, and activist, Shay Stewart-Bouley’s, Black Girl In Maine blog. The piece, Not Guilty, Also, Not a Surprise, by Samuel James, shares the difference for himself between being shocked and surprised about the verdict. Past history has shown him, and all of us, if our eyes are open, who gets away with murder, and who gets locked up for selling weed. He speaks of the foolishness of the racial construct in this country, and warns of us slipping backward in this country, as we “can all see the swell of violence coming…” that is, unless, “we are too busy being surprised to see it.”

As if this isn’t enough to move one to action, it was Shay’s words in introducing the article that dug even deeper into my soul. She said, it’s good for us white folks to reach out to our Black and Brown friends during this time to see how they are doing, but, “perhaps you should be reaching out to your fellow white folks to get your plans together to stem the tide of white nationalism growing in your communities. Are you sure your sons are not the next Kyle? What about the other young white boys, teens and men in your circles?”

“Will you discuss this verdict with loved ones over the holidays?” she asked.

Shay’s words push me to look to other white people, to think of our communities, schools, and other white majority spaces, and talk to one another about how we are going to raise our sons and daughters at home, in school, on the playground, in our neighborhoods? How are we modeling how we all have to care for and love one another, and have one another’s back, as if all children are our very own, because, they are. How are we modeling standing up for one another? What are we saying to our children, or our co-workers, when we overhear them say they think the Rittenhouse verdict was fair, or that they won’t put up with an all-gender bathroom, or they are fighting critical race theory in their children’s schools, even when they don’t know what it means, except they think it means their children will learn too much of the truth of this country’s history, and that it means that white people are “bad.” Are we saying or doing anything? Or are we simply saying to ourselves, we know all this is bad, but don’t do anything about it?

Are we promoting healthy spaces in our communities that help kids connect with one another, care for one another, include everyone in a loving way, lift one another up? Are we teaching our children to stand up for their Black and Brown friends when they have racist remarks made to them, or about them in their absence? Are we doing the same in the spaces we adults find ourselves in?

I am reminded also of Resmaa Menakem, author, therapist, and somatic abolitionist, who calls for white people to heal the racial trauma that resides inside our bodies, and to work with one another in our own communities to do so. Can we look inward and work on ourselves, and work with one another, because, work it is. There are no short-cuts here. If we keep building these relentlessly loving communities, which will take generations to do, instead of rage, fear and hatred, we can transfer down love from one generation to another, and one day, we might all really be free.


I realize the majority of the time, it’s my voice here, with me sometimes asking, like I do in this very post, what am I doing, what are we doing? While there is some commenting when I post the blog on social media, there is often not too much interaction with you, the reader, here on the blog. Perhaps I have not been good at creating the space for that, and would like to get better at that. To that end, can you please do me a favor, and comment here on the blog, on an action you will take this month to be a part of fighting against the normalizing of white violence, and toward the building of a loving community? I would also like to hear feedback on what you’d like to see more of here. A friend suggested I have guest interviewees or conversations each month. What’s important to you?

As always I thank you for your readership, and more importantly your part in anti-racism work. It takes all of us to make change–to create the just future we want to live in, we want our children to live in, and we want our children’s children to live in. Thank you.

Photo credit: National Museum of African American History and Culture (no copyright infringement is intended)

Let Us Listen To All Of Our Young People’s Cries For Help To End Gun Violence

21 Feb

photo credit: IBTimes UK

While this nation mourns the losses of the lives of the seventeen students and teachers who were killed by a former student with an AR-15 assault rifle on Valentines Day at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, the nation is also inspired by the student survivors who are speaking out and taking action.

I am inspired by their passion, conviction, and ability to rise up after the devastation and trauma they experienced just last week. These brilliant young people have had enough, and are calling on the adults to keep them safe so that what happened at Parkland never happens again. And, yes, it is a pity that the adults who possess the political power to create better gun control laws, and to ban assault rifles, have thus far done nothing to heed the calls for change–not after Columbine, 19 years ago, not after Virginia Tech, not after Sandy Hook,  not after the Florida night club, not after Las Vegas, and not after Parkland.

Through tweets to the President, and videos gone viral, our young people know how to use social media to mobilize, and to gain widespread attention. The young students at Parkland, out of self-proclaimed necessity, have become overnight anti-gun violence activists. Student Emma Gonzalez’s 10-minute brave and direct speech, has been seen by over 1 million people. Reporters and journalists are contacting and following the students’ activities, which include a planned National March Against Gun Violence in Washington D.C. on March 24th. Here is Emma’s inspirational speech, if you have not yet seen it: […]