Youth Workshop with CFJ: How Can We Use Creative Design for Social Impact?

Steven Cheun and Angelo Remsen pose together during Origin of Mind economic justice workshop at CFJ.

Recently, I visited Californians for Justice (CFJ) with the Origin of Mind team to discuss economic justice and income inequality. Californians for Justice is a grassroots statewide organization that fights for educational and racial justice by building the capacity, knowledge and power of young people of color. Every summer, they host an intensive training called Summer Youth Leadership Academy (SYLA) for 5 weeks where they equip young people with political education and community organizing skills.

Using the framework of Origin of Mind, we shared and identified examples of economic injustice within our communities, and brainstormed creative ways to highlight and communicate these concepts.

The overarching theme of the day: How can we use creative design for social impact?

What stories do we identify with?

We started by trying to pinpoint and articulate how we could create a message or brand that resonates with others. We shared some of our personal favorite brands, and discussed the stories, concepts, and themes that inspire loyalties to Nike or Jordans.

Angelo Remsen, a sophomore at Fremont High, inevitably brought up one name that’s gotten a lot of attention recently: Big Baller Brand. The room was split on how we felt about it, but Angelo was able to sum up the story behind the label:

“Once upon a time, there was a guy named Lavar. He had three sons, and he pretty much blueprinted that his kids are going to play ball and be on the same NBA team… and it’s kinda happening. One day he decided to make a shoe brand, and he’s selling the shoes for like $500…. So, that’s Big Baller Brand! You’re only gonna get it if you’re a big baller.”
Angelo Remsen, junior at Fremont High, explains the story behind “Big Baller Brand”.

How can we define economic justice?

But today’s main topic: “economic justice”.

Together, we wanted to identify the different factors that contribute to and result from major differences in income, access, and opportunity across different groups. We began by discussing some of the most obvious examples of injustice we see in our communities today.

Some of issues raised included the concept of equity vs. equality, generational poverty, and how systemic inequality contributes to the wealth gap:

“A family of four might not need as much support as a family of six. But the families below the poverty line… once you hit that line, it’s hard to get out of.” Kweko Power, 11th Grade, Oakland High
“In one of our classes, we looked at the statistics of money throughout the whole United States. The middle and working class was closer to or on the same level as the very poor… and what they had didn’t change much over time. But the rich — their amounts just basically spiked up and kept going” Zykkia Armstrong, Freshman, Alameda College
“Basically … the rich gets richer and the poor stays poor.” Steven Cheun, 11th Grade, Oakland High
The students at Californians for Justice swap stories as we discuss examples of injustices in our communities.

What are some examples of injustice in our communities?

Next, we pulled out images, words, textures, and colors to fire up our creative energies and continue thinking about what economic justice means to us.

Robert Green, 11th Grade, Mt. Eden, explained his favorite image on the mood board: a full-page photo featuring Carmelo and Lala Anthony and their son. Each of them is decked out in red, white, and blue — surrounded by and creating a portrait of modern-day American success. Robert explains:

“I love how it shows the African American family, which you don’t see a lot. It kind of shows the American Dream…. if you work hard, you can get a sense of happiness in your life. But it only shows a little aspect of how it really is, because the American Dream doesn’t work for a lot of people. It only works for certain people who can smile and look good in pictures.”
Robert Green and Kweko Power flip through magazines to find pictures that helped create our moodboard.

Other voices also raised their perspectives on how wealth inequality are inevitably linked to racial injustice. We shared our thoughts on how negative perceptions of minorities exacerbate the problem, with minority stereotypes and tropes reinforced everyday across various mediums and environments.

Kweko Power, 11th Grade, Oakland High, called out one example of the portrayal of Black women in the media, holding up an image of Halle Berry as Catwoman. She shows how these portrayals feed back into the discussion of economic justice, explaining:

“The catwoman photo right here… is tied back to the systemic disadvantages and benefits [facing different groups]. Because Halle Berry is light-skinned, she is fetishized by the movie industry. So this catwoman, compared to other catwomen, is more oversexualized…. And Halle Berry is praised because she’s seen as this sexual goddess. It’s like how society sees a lot of folks of color: we’re only good when we fit into society’s image of us. So if we don’t fit that image… we’re just poor folk, like we don’t know how to do anything. We don’t fit into the rest of their plan.”

How can we communicate ideas around economic justice?

As we neared the end of the day, we wrapped up with a brainstorm of the different visual and narrative ways we could communicate some of the concepts that were raised during our discussion.

As an ongoing part of the design process at Origin of Mind, our goal is to incorporate diverse perspectives across our communities to highlight the experiences, triumphs, and challenges that each of us encounter everyday.

In workshops like this one, we’re able to learn from young folks about the topics and issues they care most about, and have fun brainstorming together on how we can get others to care about them as well.

Many, many thanks to CFJ for welcoming us to the space, and to the awesome students for sharing in honest and thoughtful discussion on these topics! We’re excited to continue to learn/ grow/ build with this group. For more on CFJ and their work in empowering communities or color, check out their website here.

For more on Origin of Mind and how we incorporate community dialogue into our clothing and designs, check out our website! A don’t forget to follow us on Instagram @originofmind.clothing and Twitter @originofmind_, for your freshest fix of social justice, fashion, and community news.