Beth Tobey

Youth create a mural with a message of inclusivity and diversity

Beth Tobey @ 3/14/2018

It's amazing to be standing here on this side of the project- a year after we conceived the idea - and now it's done! It has meant so much to the youth!

— Alex Santana - Diversity Center Youth Program Coordinator

In March, a group of about 30 youth - along with friends, parents and family members, gathered to celebrate the completion of a thought-provoking and inspiring new mural titled “Unify, Decolonize, Thrive” located at the Louden Nelson Community Center. The mural is the first in Santa Cruz County to represent and address issues, themes, and experiences that are important to queer youth.

The theme for this new mural - at the busy intersection of Center and Laurel streets - was developed in conversation with teens at the Diversity Center and and the Santa Cruz Teen Center which is housed in the Louden Nelson Center.  Local mural artists Emmanuel Garcia and Oliver Whitcroft brought the vision to life, designing the mural and overseeing the youth who painted it.  

The mural represents the past, present, and future of marginalized communities transitioning from a bleak history into a vibrant thriving world. The intersections of the mural challenge and encourage the viewer to reflect on their role in the movement towards equality and to choose the path of justice.

A revolution of people unifying together emerges from the bridge of Intersectionality, a theory coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989 to describe interlocking systems of power and oppression.

Intersectional activism connects diverse movements and issues such as LGBTQ liberation with racial equity, immigration rights, indigenous sovereignty, and ending patriarchal violence in an effort to decolonize society. 

This mural is a symbol of our struggles and our resilience so that future generations remember: We exist to resist and we survive to thrive.

— - Jamie Joy, Diversity Center Youth Program Coordinator

The past portion of the mural features real news stories pulled from historical archives in Santa Cruz County – about slavery, seizure of tribal lands, Chinese indentured labor, and the Japanese internment camps during WWII. Moving towards the present the mural transitions from gray tones into color, depicting local and national history – including recent Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) protests, an iconic image of a flower-wielding Black Lives Matter activist, former Mayor Tom Laird, the Washington DC AIDS quilt, Stonewall and the Santa Cruz Diversity Center. A bridge with the word “Intersectionality” sits behind a scene of protestors holding a banner that says “equality.”

Not only did this mural mean a lot to the youth, but it spurred so many conversations with people passing by while we were painting. It's a busy intersection and there is a bus stop right there. We had so many people stop and ask about the mural. For example, we had folks ask "What was Stonewall?" And we would explain that the Stonewall riots were a series of spontaneous demonstrations by members of the LGBTQ community against a police raid that took place in the early morning hours of June 28, 1969, at the Stonewall Inn in the Greenwich Village. We had others ask "What does Silence Equal Death mean?" and we would tell them about the AIDS crisis in the 1980s. We even had a homeless man come by and see the image of a homeless Veteran and he said, "This mural represents me!"

— Jamie Joy - Diversity Center Youth Program Coordinator

The Louden Nelson Community Center is the perfect location for such a mural - as it has always had the core mission of being a place where everyone is welcome. In fact, the other mural on the backside of the building, installed in the 1980s by Jeff Orberdorfer and Julie Heffernan, represented and celebrated the black community and neighbors of the Center and was the first mural in Santa Cruz to do so when it was installed.

— Beth Tobey - City Arts Program Manager

Mayor David Terrazas noted at a previous event that the Center had a long history of inclusion and social justice.  The Center is named after London Nelson, commonly as Louden Nelson, who was a black former (freed) slave who arrived in the Santa Cruz area in the late 1800s. The Louden Nelson Community Center is named in his honor and in gratitude for his donations of property to the Santa Cruz School District. 

In 1860, London established a will that gave over his entire estate—$372—to the Santa Cruz School District. Although he never received an education, he wanted to be sure future children could. This generous donation would forever put him down as a local hero in Santa Cruz history.

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Please watch the video above to hear more about the project and how much it meant to the youth that created it!