Tonight we were joined by Mary Haddad, Jenine Tobias and Julie Okoniewski. Below is their bios and Mary's artist statement, the creator of the mural. We spoke about today's guilty verdict of Derek Chauvin in the murder of George Floyd, and also the power of activism and art. Thank you to Mary and Jenine and for the wisdom and guidance of Generation Z.
Mary Haddad is an 18-year-old Arab-American artist, creator, student, and activist. She is a senior in high school attending the DCC Bridge Program full-time. Passionate about activism, Mary created and painted, with the help of her community, a Black Lives Matter Mural.
Jenine Tobias is an African American sophomore at Oakwood Friends School who devotes her time in the upbringing and encouragement of her peers and those around her. Bringing world peace is at the top of her list but that can only start from changing the world around her.
Julie Okoniewski is Associate Director of Development and Alumni Affairs at Oakwood Friends School and served as a Good Work Institute fellow in 2017-18. She is also the founder of VOTE (Voices of Tomorrow Empowered) a free two-week residential program designed for Hudson Valley and New York City youth to learn about political advocacy through the arts.
Mary Haddad - Artist Statement
After a BLM sign was stolen twice and burnt in front of Oakwood Friends School, I was motivated to turn this theft into a creative, collaborative project. Originally a solo mural, I contacted the school to see if this sign was on their property and they loved the idea! The mural evolved into a collaboration with Oakwood Friends and I, and later into a community project.
The 8’-x-12’mural displays 11 Americans who were murdered by law enforcement, with “All Black Lives Matter” along the top and “Say Their Names” along the bottom. It was important to create a safe space for volunteers to have uncomfortable conversations about racial inequality, its effects, and its origins. After two days of volunteering, I fixed any errors and added more detail. In total, the mural took about 324 hours in two and a half months. This project not only stands for justice but shows what the youth are capable of and our voices should be respected and acknowledged. Without the initial theft, this project would not have been possible, and to that person, I say thank you for the opportunity. This project is a reminder that turning a hateful act into something of positivity always bears beautiful results.
Police brutality and systemic racism are not new problems. We have seen the loss of innocent lives and the growth of the largest (civil rights) movement in the world, Black Lives Matter, as a result. This movement fights for racial equality and against police brutality. It’s important that everyone educates themselves on the history of American systemic racism, its current effects, and how these problems can be solved. Reallocating funds to programs that help rather than punish and implementing more police training (Defund the Police) are great solutions, but the ultimate solution must run deeper. Economic inequality and poverty, which encourage crime, strongly correlate with racism, education, and our current system. When we prioritize the human condition over profit, when we stop killing our Earth and its people, and when we stop systemic racism, real change will occur and it begins with all of us.
Kawaski Trawick (top left) was a 32-year-old Black gay man who was murdered in his home during a mental health episode on April 14, 2019. After he called 911 for a fire, two officers, Brendan Thompson and Herbert Davis, barged into his apartment and did not answer any of Trawick’s questions like, “why are you in my home?” He held a knife and a stick and after not putting the knife down, Davis tased him. After, Kawaski stood up and was then fatally shot. There was no justice for Kawaski Trawick.
Layleen Xtravaganza Cubilette-Polanco (under Trawick) was a 27-year-old Afro-Latina transgender woman who was left to die in solitary confinement from epilepsy in New York Rikers Island after she couldn’t afford a $500 bail on June 6, 2019. Layleen was arrested on a misdemeanor assault charge and was put in solitary confinement for an assault in the jail. Her family argues she should not have been held in solitary confinement due to her health. Rikers Island has mandatory 15-minute checks, yet Layleen was left unchecked for 47 minutes and died due to 2 seizures. There was no justice for Layleen Xtravaganze Cubilette-Polanco.
Elijah McClain (bottom left corner) was a 23-year-old Black man murdered while walking home from the corner store on August 24, 2019. After a 911 call on Elijah claiming he looked “suspicious” because of his ski mask, officers threw him to the ground and held him in a chokehold twice while Elijah said “I can’t breathe” several times. After medics arrived, they injected him with an excessive amount of ketamine that sent him into cardiac arrest. Elijah was declared brain dead. An independent investigation revealed the three officers, Nathan Woodyard, Jason Rosenblatt, and Randy Roedema, had no legal reason to stop or search Elijah and medics reacted irrationally. There was no justice for Elijah McClain.
Andres Guardado (right of Trawick) was an 18-year-old Latino man murdered while working as a security guard for an autobody shop on June 18, 2020. Andres stood at the gate in conversation with someone in a car. The 2 officers, Chris Hernandez and Deputy Miguel Vega, claimed Andres had a gun and chased him through the alley where Deputy Miguel Vega shot him 6 times, 5 times in the back and one bullet grazing his arm. There was a gun found at the crime with no fingerprints and no trace of Andres’ DNA. The family says he did not leave with a gun. There was a shooting days before in the same spot and the autobody shop says law enforcement took their camera system and the two officers were not equipped with body cameras. There was no justice for Andres Guardado.
Tamir Rice (right of Layleen) was a 12-year-old Black boy murdered in a park for holding a toy gun on November 22, 2014. After receiving a 911 call about a 20-year-old Black male, the cops arrived at the recreational center and found Tamir walking away from a bench. He held the toy near his waist as officers arrived. As soon as they arrived, Timothy Loehmann was 4.5 feet away when he shot Tamir. There was no justice for Tamir Rice.
Breonna Taylor (right of Elijah) was a 26-year-old Black woman murdered in her home on March 13, 2020. Officers Jonathan Mattingly, Brett Hankinson, Myles Cosgrove and four more were supposed to conduct a warrant search on a house 10 miles away. It was midnight and the officers did not announce themselves according to five neighbors. Kenneth Walker, Breonna’s boyfriend and licensed gun owner, shot Jonathan Mattingly through the dark in the thigh because he believed it was a robbery. The three officers opened 22 rounds of fire into the dark and shot Breonna 6 times. Breonna was not given medical attention for 30 minutes. Ultimately, Brett Hankinson was fired, charged with wanton endangerment, and for the bullets that missed Breonna. None of them faced charges for murder. There was no justice for Breonna Taylor.
Aiyana Jones (right of Andres) was a 7-year-old Black girl murdered during a SWAT raid of the wrong apartment on May 16, 2020. A SWAT team of 6 directed by Joseph Weekley threw a grenade into the apartment and kicked down a wooden door. The grenade exploded near Aiyana who was sleeping on the couch. Then she was shot with a bullet hitting her head and exiting her neck. Aiyana died within an hour of the raid. The apartment they were supposed to raid was just upstairs. The initial trial was a mistrial, the charges of involuntary manslaughter dismissed, and later a second mistrial. There was no justice for Aiyana Jones.
Zachary Bearheels was a 29-year-old Indigenous man murdered due to being tased 12 times, dragged by his hair, and punched in the head several times by police all within 15 minutes during a mental health episode on June 5, 2017. Zachary was outside a grocery store where he was encountered with four officers, Scotty Payne, Ryan McClarty, Jennifer Studley, and Makayla Mead, who used excessive force to arrest Zachary for no legal reason. Zachary, suffering from Bipolar Disease and Schizophrenia, died in the parking lot. All officers were found innocent and three of them reinstated. There was no justice for Zachary Bearheels.
George Floyd (right of Breonna) was a 46-year-old Black man murdered for an alleged $20 counterfeit bill on May 25, 2020. Parked in the street, officers approached him aggressively and pulled George out of his car into a cop car. After two more cop cars arrived, Derek Chauvin pulled George Floyd out of the police car and kneeled on George’s neck for 8 minutes while J. Alexander Keung and Thomas Lane held George down and Tou Thao watched. George said “I can’t breathe” at least 16 times in five minutes. Derek Chauvin was dismissed of murder charges and the other three were not held accountable. The court will hear arguments to reinstate charges of third-degree murder against Chauvin. We demand justice for George Floyd.
Ahmaud Arbery (top right corner) was a 25-year-old Black man murdered by three off-duty and not in uniform officers while jogging on February 23, 2020. Travis and Greg McMichael (a father-son duo) accompanied by William Bryan knew of a suspect roaming a construction site allegedly looking for water. There were also several other people who roamed the sight. The three believed Ahmaud was the suspect. Travis McMichael shot Ahmaud twice and Greg McMichael watched from the bed of a truck while loading a gun. The three men were arrested more than two months later and remain in jail without bond until a trial date is set. We demand justice for Ahmaud Arbery.
Tanisha Anderson (bottom right) was a 37-year-old Black woman murdered in front of her home during a mental health episode, suffering from Bipolar Disease and Schizophrenia, on November 12, 2014. When officers Scott Aldridge and Bryan Myers arrived, they threw her faced down onto the icy pavement and kneeled on her back. As a result, Tanisha stopped breathing while reciting a prayer and died moments after. The officers failed to call an ambulance for 14 minutes. There was no justice for Tanisha Anderson.