SARATOGA, CA — A small group of South Bay high school students are using their passion for art to unite their community amid turbulent times.
Erin Sun, Apoorva Talwalkar and Jennifer Xu are all staunch supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement and just as unwavering in their support for the local businesses that are the backbone of their community.
So when the George Floyd protests swept across the nation, the idea of expressing themselves artistically in support of social justice and racial equality while promoting harmony in their community seemed like a natural.
Sun, Talwalkar and Xu, who just completed their freshman years at Saratoga High School, partnered with local businesses to paint boarded-up storefronts and design posters for small shops in support of the Black Lives Matter Movement.
“Our aim is not only to promote racial equality and show support for the protest on Saturday (June 6), but also to use art to unite our community during these trying times and potentially lower the risk of our local businesses getting looted,” Sun said.
Sun’s group is slowly transforming the city’s small shopping district into an outdoor gallery.
They’ve already painted signs or posters on a half dozen shops near the intersection of De Anza Boulevard and Prospect Street.
Their work appears at Little Genius Learning Center, the Valero gas station, Tamra Mediterranean Grill, Halal Meats, Yummy Yummy Bao, and Coach House Wine.
“The businesses were grateful for the posters and paintings,” Sun said.
“Some business owners wanted to support the BLM movement but weren't able to attend protests so our BLM posters on their storefronts gave them an opportunity to voice their support. A few owners had contemplated temporarily emptying out their stores prior to the protests and they appreciated that the messages of support may have helped to prevent potential looting.”
Sun said her group hopes partner with more businesses.
“Even if the protests are over for now, we want to use art to further unite our community, especially during these uncertain times,” she said.
Extraordinarily uncertain times, to be sure, especially for high school students who midway through their spring semesters had their classrooms move to Zoom screens amid the COVID-19 crisis. And that was before Floyd’s death rocked the nation.
“The past few weeks have been surreal—it feels like we had just adjusted to a new normal due to the coronavirus pandemic, and then the nationwide protests began,” Sun said.
Sun’s group is among a growing number of youths who’ve become involved in promoting social justice.
The Bay Area chapter of Coalition Z, a national youth political activist group, organized a protest in San Mateo earlier this month that attracted thousands. The emergence of March for Our Lives, which grew from the 2018 Parkland, Florida, mass shooting that killed 17, typifies this trend.
“Most high schoolers I know are extremely supportive of the BLM movement and looking to engage more with their communities during the pandemic,” Sun said.
“There are tons of Instagram stories filled with people speaking out about current issues, encouraging friends and peers to take action, and sharing insight on how to stay safe during the protests.”
Sun said her high school peers are contributing to the advancement of social justice in different ways. Organizing protests, leading petition drives, and promoting videos that generate revenues that are donated to charities are among some of ways today's youth are doing what they can to make a difference.
She noted recent protests in Saratoga and Cupertino were organized by high school students too.
“We just happened to want to use our passion for art to help and make a change in our community to show our support for the movement,” Sun said.
“We believe that art can be one of the most powerful forms of expression and help bring our community together. We are most passionate about community organizing and social justice and want to use our love for art to make our voices heard.”