By Mariza Hernandez

On June 15th we had our first ever Free The Youth Art Contest and gallery here at CURYJ. We had the honor of having 17 amazing art pieces from youth from all over Oakland in our art gallery. The event saw families, artists, and the community showing up to support and enjoy the work, as well as delicious empanadas. Select participants received Blick Art Store gift cards, with the first place winner receiving $400, second place winner receiving $100, and, 3rd place winner receiving $50. The reason behind the youth art contest was that we wanted every young person to feel appreciated. As an artist it’s hard to get exposure sometimes, so we wanted these participants to feel like the work they do matters. To many people art can bring a community together, which is why this show was so important to myself and CURYJ, and although this was our first art contest we got the opportunity to give back to those talented young artist. It’s hard to describe the feeling knowing that every artist who submitted went home with a gift card for art supplies, which showed them that we hope they continue to do the work they do because every single art piece that we had up inspired people from all over our community.

“Zhane Armstrong Gift Card Winner”

Zhane Armstrong

Artist Statement:
In this piece freedom is being shown through the flowers. The reason is because the red lines are the cause to those flowers being in bloom due to the oppression and the pain she lived through. But even though that she is still broken one way or another she is becoming free with her strength and passion and that’s what those flowers mean to freedom.

“Francisco Aguilar 3rd place winner”

Francisco Aguilar

Artist Statement:

Hello my name is Paco also known as Francisco Aguilar and my medium is Digital Art. What freedom means to me is culture, your identity is special to be free from this system of oppression. We are usually lost trying to find who we are and some of us find ourselves and become more empowered. Freedom is our roots and our past lives. Trying to become stronger and become better you every day. Fast or slow, a bit or a lot, we as people of color confront and take action upon our own hands. In my art it shows a Chicano teen from fruitvale finding his roots and becoming one with his past lives. From a Aztec Nomad warrior with cheetah pelt armour to our home tenochtitlan a golden city. As you can see I wanted to amplify gold- we are rich in a lot ways. We are proud people who came so far from this journey of oppression and being stronger. Thank you and I hope I get my art displayed.

“Carla Franco 2nd place winner”

Carla Franco

Artist Statement:
Freedom is being able to express yourself no matter the stereotypes and gender roles, society forces on all individuals. I chose to add activities and expressions that are stereotypically for one gender. I used the colors blue and pink because those are the colors that are “meant for each gender.” In order to be fully free, we can do what we enjoy no matter what society’s limitations are. As a woman I am affected by society’s stereotypes against women, which is why I wanted to express those experiences in this art piece. You can be a woman and love sports. You can be a man and love makeup. It’s important to enjoy ourselves and feel supported by others for being ourselves. We have the right to feel every emotion.

“Huyen Nguyen 1st place winner”

Huyen Nguyen

Artist Statement:
To me, freedom means the end of mass incarceration. I also care about prisoners of color who were imprisoned unfairly. They deserve a second chance so they can access their basic rights of education, housing, voting, health care, etc. The brown roses represent black and brown prisoners while the white roses are white prisoners. My art piece represents freedom because it shows a prisoner unlocking the door of opportunities that were denied to them due to mass incarceration.




CURYJ interrupts cycles of violence and poverty by motivating and empowering young people who are impacted by the criminal justice system to make positive change in their lives and become the community leaders of today.

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CURYJ unlocks the leadership of young people to dream beyond bars.

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