KC Activists Use Art to Heal

This past Saturday local activist group One Struggle KC and their Latino/a counterpart Una Lucha KC—“one struggle” in Spanish—came together to create their first of a four-part series, called Art + Healing. The session took place at the Kansas City Kansas South Library from 12-3 p.m. and featured various ways for Kansas Citians to create art and ease the pain that oppressed communities on both sides on the Kansas-Missouri border face.

The atmosphere was set with politically charged music/video, beautiful people of different descents, conversations of liberation and everyone’s favorite social adhesive: food. One of the co-founders for the Una Lucha group, Mariana Gutierrez, told me all about the event.

“This is about unity of black and brown communities,” said Gutierrez. “A space where communities can express themselves through art; we have more similarities than differences.”

The event was just that: art expressions between people groups both historically affected by many of the same oppressive systems.

On the role of art and activism, Justice Bowers, chair of the education committee for One Struggle KC, explained how these two have always intertwined to push us forward.

“It’s always been the artist, whether that’s been a painter, poet, or rapper, who gave a voice to the people,” Bowers said.


Justice Bowers reading one of the coloring books. (Used with permission of Una Lucha KC).

Justice Bowers reading one of the coloring books. (Used with permission of Una Lucha KC).


This is fleshed out by the work that One Struggle and Una Lucha does throughout the metro area. They recently held a protest on the steps of City Hall in response to the unwarranted death of Ryan Stokes, listing demands, calling out Kansas City Mayor, Sly James, and others responsible for the injustice his family has endured. Stokes was fatally shot by KCPD two and a half years ago. He, like many other black men and women, was unarmed, had no criminal record and has yet to see an officer convicted.

The tiresome work of activism can weigh on your mental state, physical health and more, which is why creating aesthetically pleasing and stress-relieving expressions is needed, not just for activists doing the work, but for the people who endure the struggle. While touring the art stations that included custom tote bag making, bracelets and cut-out paper people, I spoke with Austin Hoffman, an organizer with One Struggle and recent UMKC graduate.

“I think that when you’re involved in social justice movements, it’s difficult work,” Hoffman said. Acknowledging his privilege in navigating the world as a white male, he understands solidarity and “coming together with other people who are about what you are.”

The reoccurring theme is that of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Cesar Chavez and even Malcolm X after his trip to Mecca. Eventually, we will need to come together to fight oppression, hence the “One Struggle” name of the group.
The event was centered around new coloring books produced by Una Lucha and One Struggle.

“The coloring book idea came from Una Lucha,” said Diane Burkholder, co-founder on One Struggle. “They recrafted one of the Ayotzinapa books, then we created the Black Lives Matter books.

The Ayotzinapa coloring book refers to the name of the southern Guerrero, Mexico town that experienced the 2014 mass disappearance of 43 male students, which birthed Una Lucha. The Black Lives Matter coloring books—which feature an adult and children’s edition – refer to the many unjust killings of unarmed Black-Americans by police and police like authority. The children’s edition features Trayvon Martin on the cover, the slain teen of Florida whose death and acquittal of his killer, George Zimmerman, kicked off the Black Lives Matter movement.

“One of the goals is to get art into the community, not only to create here but [for participants] to take this and continue to de-stress and express themselves,” Burkholder said.

It is important to serve disadvantage communities in ways that don’t add financial strain as well. The event was free and the coloring books were produced via a “Rocket Grant” that One Struggle received, which also covered the cost of food and supplies.

Upon leaving I spoke with Brittany Coleman, an organizer with One Struggle and recent UMKC law graduate.

“Art for Black people is something always seen as inaccessible,” Brittany Coleman, an organizer for One Struggle and UMKC Law alum, said. “It’s important to go into spaces and be revolutionary and use our voices in a different way.”

If interested in this type of work, One Struggle and Una Lucha will be holding the 2nd event to this series on March 25.

Royce is a staff writer. Email him at rhandy@unews.com.

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