Art as a means for justice

On Friday, Feb. 3, Azusa Pacific University students and staff gathered together to discuss the topic of justice.

The night included multiple pieces of spoken word, as well as musical performers and speakers.

The event, entitled Just Expressions, took place in the Cougar Dome and was put into production by Communiversity and the Center for Student Action.

“I think that our goal at the Center for Student Action, especially with this event, is just to introduce stories of injustice and stories of people’s lives being shared,” Senior Business Management major Praise Ching said. “I think that there’s incredible power when we engage that sort of expression and that people can use art to do that.”

Themes such as racism, sexism, homophobia and the issue of the refugee crisis were discussed, alongside other current societal topics.

Senior Social Work major and Black Student Association President Jamilah Relf shared her spoken word piece with the audience because she felt it’s important that people talk about the issues faced within the Black community.

“I felt that it was important for me to speak up about how black men, women, and children are all discriminated against,” she said. ” I felt it was important to address why the U.S should be held accountable for the ways that slavery affected black people and how what happened to us during slavery still has an effect on us today.”

Ching agreed that creating the opportunity for people to share their stories and hear the stories of others is important within a community.

“It’s so necessary to have a place where people can express who they are and the experience that they’ve had without feeling that their experience will either be robbed or normalized or taken advantage of,” Ching said.

Among those who presented was APU Associate Professor for the Department of Practical Theology, Rev. Gregg Moder, who shared two of his own spoken word pieces, Beauty Itself and Stronger Still.

Moder noted the powerful vessel of art and the role it can play in community development by allowing community members to let their guard down and share the parts of their lives and history that may not be the norm.

“There’s a growing body of literature that actually recognizes the fact that great community transformation happens in the context of art,” Moder said.

Moder expressed the powerful nature of art in our society to promote understanding and listening.

“In our culture, art seems to be the place, and perhaps this is something that’s part of the design of God, we let our guard down. I think that it’s very, very healthy for a community to have a place where art is honored for what it can be: as a great catalyst of the kind of expressions of Shalom that can come on the other end of that candidness, that honesty, and that courage it takes to share things.”

Moder thought the event was a beautiful display of people’s talents and gifts, as well as a great expression of people being vulnerable and courageous.

“I’ve got a lot to think through, a lot to process, and a lot that I’ll take away from this,” Moder said.

Ching encouraged people to remember the humans behind intense systemic issues.

“I think that when we look at…things like racisim, classism, all the other sort of issues that we combat or we try to combat, we get lost in this overwhelming wave of, ‘This is so big! It’s a behemoth!’” Ching said. “If we’re able to just cut through some of that noise and say at the heart of this all it deals with [is] human beings. Racisim or social inequality, all of these things, they affect people.”

Moder expressed that one of the best ways to honor the people behind the stories was through intentional interaction with residential community members.

“Build friendships, make connections,” Moder said. “Be connected at whatever level you can be with people who are living there and who are about the kind of social interaction that you hope to see affect change,” Moder said.

“If you have connections with people that are in that community long-term that are seeking the Shalom of the Kingdom and they invite you in, then that I think is a great gift and it’s a great opportunity, because now you have the leadership and the guidance of people that are residents that are helping you pay attention to the history and what’s there in ways that what you end up doing doesn’t ultimately favor dominant culture.”

Relf also acknowledge the overwhelming feeling people can get when discussing such impactful issues, but she reminded people of the impact they can have just within their own community.

“There is so much injustice in the world that sometimes it feels overwhelming to try and tackle it all,” she said. “But I would encourage each student to understand that even if you cannot change the entire world, start with the world around you.

This can be your family, your community, this country, etc. Nothing can be changed unless we have the courage to speak up and protect one another,” Relf said.

Though the road of facing injustices can be daunting, Relf urges everyone to take solace in courage.

We cannot address the issues of injustice without courage, because courage is what gives us the strength to love despite hate, unite despite division, and pray despite uncertainty. Put down fear, pick up courage and use your voice.”