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Needham students drive change through art

NHS alumna Erika Ogbebor displays her incredible painting.

By Maddie Gerber
Hometown Weekly Intern

“This is what America means to me as a black man,” said Amo-Mensah Amota, an artist from Glastonbury, Connecticut, gesturing to the detailed graphite and charcoal drawing behind him. Amota’s piece is fraught with symbolism, from the recurring depictions of bars and chains to the strong fist wielding a balanced scale of justice. “Before I make my art, I usually try to think of a theme,” Amota reflected, “but for this one, I didn’t really have a theme. I just channeled all of the emotions I had and tried to depict what my version of America really is.”

This was what Sunday afternoon’s art showcase was all about: using art as a vehicle to express emotions and educate others. 

Boston Conservatory graduate Christopher Hester performs for the crowd gathered at the high school. 

After the success of the rally at the high school a few weeks prior, former and current Needham High students wanted to continue their activism in the community, which inspired them to create the Black Lives Matter art showcase. The event was spearheaded by 2018 NHS graduate Kiana Minaie, who was inspired by a project she did during her time at the high school through a class called “The Greater Boston Project,” where she and her classmates helped decorate a traffic box. For Minaie, this experience taught her that “art is such a different way of learning and, for me personally, it’s a really fun way of learning.”

This sentiment inspired Minaie to organize the art show, reaching out to former peers and the Needham community at large to find artists, activists, and educators to bring the experience to life. She found support from a plethora of individuals and local organizations, including the Needham Diversity Initiative, Needham Human Rights Committee, Progressive Needham, and NHS students who were part of the Courageous Conversations on Race class at the high school. All of this support from the community led to a very successful event.

An information board created by NHS alumni Kate Clancy, Izzy Ludlow, and Nurit Schwartz explains the link between black lives and mental health.

The showcase began with a poem written by 2020 NHS graduate Olu Ajayi, who has been an outspoken advocate in the Needham community, and played a prominent role in the recent rally. She was followed by Boston Conservatory graduate Christopher Hester, who serenaded the crowd with his incredible voice. As he sang Bill Withers’ “Lean on Me,” the crowd joined him by clapping; the lyrics seemed to resonate perfectly with the moment of unity.

After the performances had finished, the crowd dispersed and began to explore the variety of tents and tables that were set up around the upper field. Some tents held artwork created by black artists, many of whom were NHS students. All of the pieces were made to represent some aspect of living in America as a black individual, and the struggles that accompany it. Although all of the artists were focusing on one central theme, their experiences were all portrayed quite differently, using a variety of media, motifs, and messages to convey a wide range of emotions.

Amo-Mensah Amofa’s charcoal and graphite drawing depicts his experience as a black man in America.

In addition to the artwork, information boards were also displayed around the field, focusing on topics such as healthcare inequities, white flight and redlining, mass incarceration, and more. Students and community members stood by each board and explained their topics in great detail to interested audience members with admirable passion and knowledgeability. The posters also included QR codes that viewers could scan to find more information on the topic - or to donate to the cause.

According to Dr. Beth Pinals, a psychologist who performs wellness and equity consultation in the Needham Public schools and who played an integral role in organizing the showcase, it was incredibly impressive to see how NHS students were able to make their equity work come alive.

“It’s really amazing to see the youth in a community come together to drive change."

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