The Power of Quotes and Memes in the Classroom

A few summers ago before I gave birth to my first daughter, I attended the Community-Word Project Summer Institute that focused on how teaching artists can explore social justice issues in the classroom. When I entered the room that first day, I was surrounded by powerful quotes by poets, artists and activists such as Dr. Cornell West, Maxine Green, Dr Martin Luther King, Dr. Maya Angelou and many others.

One particular quote by Bayard Rustin whom I was not familiar with, really captured my attention. He was “a master strategist and tireless activist, Bayard Rustin is best remembered as the organizer of the 1963 March on Washington, one of the largest nonviolent protests ever held in the United States. He brought Gandhi’s protest techniques to the American civil rights movement, and helped mold Martin Luther King, Jr. into an international symbol of peace and nonviolence.” (Rustin.org)

“We need, in every community, a group of angelic troublemakers.” — Bayard Rustin

When were were asked to do a free write inspired by one of the quotes on the wall, I wrote what would later end up being the chorus for a song called “Traviesa Angelica”, or Angelic Troublemaker.

I see myself as an angelic troublemaker and like Bayard I also see the need for more people to question the injustices perpetrated by corporations and the education system in particular, by using creative ways to address oppression without infringing on others rights. During Rustin’s time many politicians were outright racist, their treatment of people were cruel and inhuman, yet he was able to use compassion and love to pave the way for change.

Quotes are powerful and, in my case, they inspired a four minute piece of music. I also went out and researched more about this incredible man.

I am currently participating in the CWP’s Teaching Artist Training & Internship Program (TATIP) and last week we were blessed to have one of the workshops at the Langston Hughes home in Harlem. The energy in the room was palpable. We were asked to select a quote that resonated the most in relationship to our own art.

“The time may have come again for the painting of murals!” — Maxine Green
Maxine Green

This quote by Maxine Green applies so deliciously to the documentary series I am currently working on about the power of art. Like the civil rights movements of the 60s and 70s there is a strong movement in mural art that incorporates activism in street art. Organizations such as Groundswell are the perfect example.

I not only write music and create documentaries with social justice themes (which are incredibly time consuming), but on the day to day level, I feel inspired to create small things like memes. Memes are an important part of activism through social media. I currently run a Facebook page that now has around 30,000 followers and much of what we share that goes viral are memes. I created a few for Standing Rock, the one below, in particular, was shared thousands of times. I’m a new mother and although I couldn’t join the movement in person, this was one way to help.

Young students respond to memes and inspirational quotes, (their attention spans are very short). This past summer I taught a video editing intensive created by Makers.com and Reelworks and each morning at 10am sharp, we opened the summer session with a quote from an inspiring female artist, writer or filmmaker. Each student reflected on that artist and connected the ideas to their projects. This gave my students the inspiration to work hard every day on their summer break. Check out one of the final video projects about activist, writer and scholar, Salamisha Tillet.

-Katy Walker-Mejia, Filmmaker, Musician


Originally published at communitywordproject.org.