NEWBURYPORT — Art and poetry students at Newburyport High School are hosting a social justice fundraiser outside the school Saturday to support the Thurgood Marshall College Fund.
Emma Keith, president of the National Art Honor Society, said she and fellow officers — Anna Brittan, Sadie Fidler, Stella Okaya and Kate Herndon — were moved to take action in the community amid ongoing Black Lives Matter protests, locally and around the world.
Following the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others at the hands of police, Keith said she couldn’t stand by any longer.
“This stuff happens and it almost seems like it isn’t real,” she said, noting how easy it is to put her phone down and forget about it.
“But then it happens in our own communities,” Keith said, citing the recent resurfacing of a 2010 Newburyport High School yearbook photo featuring students in blackface and an incident last month in which a white man allegedly shouted a racial slur at a Black teenager on the street.
“It’s hard to ignore stuff like that,” she said. “When it’s so far away and it’s on your phone, you can put down your phone. But when you walk out your door, you can’t shut off what’s happening right in front of you.”
Keith said it was important for her to use her platform as National Art Honor Society president “to engage people and their voices through art and poetry, literature and music, to send a message to our community and even our school that as students, we’re not going to tiptoe around this.
“This doesn’t go away,” she added, noting that social media posts are not enough to enact change.
“We need to institute a different community vibe that tells people that we won’t stand for injustice, and we will do what we can to make change,” Keith said.
Anyone who attends the fundraiser Saturday from 1 to 4 p.m. can see and purchase student-made art while listening to live music from Pears & Plums, a Newburyport band with an acoustic alternative rock sound.
At 1:30, 2:15 and 3 p.m., students from Poetry Soup will read pieces they wrote regarding their feelings about social and racial injustice.
The event is free, but donations are encouraged. All proceeds will benefit the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, which not only provides scholarships to students, but “trains K-12 teachers on how to bring racial equality and social justice into their classroom,” visual arts teacher and honor society adviser Aileen Maconi said.
The students originally planned to donate all proceeds to the Boston chapter of Black Lives Matter, but faced some difficulty getting the event approved in time by the administration.
School officials were worried about donating to what they deemed a “political” organization, particularly for an event hosted on school grounds, Keith said.
Maconi said Principal Andrew Wulf was not completely against the idea and plans to work with the students to host future events related to social justice.
Those who attend will be required to wear masks and maintain 6-foot social distancing at all times. People may enter the event by foot via High Street and leave via Toppans Lane.
Up to 50 people will be allowed on the grounds, and parking will only be available on surrounding streets. Exceptions will be made for senior citizens and handicapped individuals, and a student will open the driveway up for parking solely for those people.
In partnership with the event, recent graduate Cam Lasson designed a T-shirt supporting Black Lives Matter, which will be available through Sept. 15 at www.budohaus.com/product/blm-social-justice-art-walk-tee.
On the back of the shirt, there is a poem written by current student Norah Morrissey and recent graduate Alyssa Keith that reads:
“They taught us that silence would be polite,
But now we know that isn’t right.
Ignorance is not a choice,
So use your art and use your voice!”