The official last day of school for New York City’s 1.1 million public school students happened yesterday. It has been a year like no other. Schools closed on March 16th, after a pandemic began to ravage New York City. Students were forced to quarantine and learn from home, often without computers or reliable WiFi connections. Families lost jobs and a reckoning over race culminated in massive street protests.
Art therapist Lauren Amigo from the organization Counseling in Schools wanted to help her high school students in Canarsie, Brooklyn process one of the most turbulent school years in decades. She asked them to draw the world they saw outside their windows and also imagine what they’d like to see in the future.
Here are their perspectives:
Laysha, 10th Grade
I made this picture with gray pencil because it’s so dull outside my window. There isn’t anything loud. But I made sure to show that there are people who only see one type of love (a cis male and a cis female), which I represented with the "Love is Love" sign that is crossed out. I also focused on the protest because I see a lot of that going on as well.
Future: I drew an outside that is colorful and lively that is represented with rainbows. I used paint because it’s looser and more difficult to control than other materials, which I like because there may be a few mistakes but the mistakes can create something beautiful. The painting for me symbolizes peace. It may not be a real place but it’s a happy place for me to think about.
Carlita, 11th grade
When schools first closed, it felt like a peaceful apocalypse because there was barely anyone outside. I made this picture this way because I wanted to make it loud and clear what my feelings were with the colors. I showed the red because, for me, it means anger and it is the boldest color. I wanted it to stand out to show how angry I am and how angry the world is. At first, I made brown streaks to show the color of skin of people who are being discriminated against but then I added red on top because it’s bold and shows our anger.
Future: I just drew buildings with different color lights and windows. I used to live in an apartment that had a view of other buildings with different colored lights and they were so calming to me. The sunset in the background is making the statement that the colors are blended in and aligning together -- and it can be something beautiful when different colors come together and work in harmony.
I think that the history of racism and African Americans need to be taught in and outside of the schools. The real history of African Americans, not the kind that has been talked about just a little bit in schools. We need the real history. And we need to stop electing racist politicians in the government.
Atiyah, 12th Grade
My once lively block was at a standstill, Brooklyn was at a standstill. I saw more cars than ever parked by the sidewalks and almost no one outside. I was almost certain that a tumbleweed would blow by at any moment. Seeing a once lively borough so lifeless filled me with even more anxiety and questions about the future. To me, COVID-19 was a monster that tore through my life looking to destroy whatever it could get its hands on, so that's exactly what I drew. My experience with this pandemic is dreary and confusing so that is why I used a combination of tints and shades. The swirl of patterns present depicts the whirlwind of emotions I've been through.
AJ, 12th Grade
My drawing symbolizes what I want to see outside my back porch or window.
I drew the ocean and the sunset and these cool colors you would see. It relates to Black Lives Matter a bit with all the innocent African Americans that were killed by “scared cops”. You know they would be hanging around sitting on the beach looking at the sunset and just relaxing. Everybody should get to see the sunset and it shouldn’t be taken away from them because of a disease or getting killed because of their skin color. Everyone is entitled to the same thing.
Aleesha, 11th Grade
I feel like I see a tree going through winter and losing its leaves. The world around is dying and the tree stumps symbolize people that are dying from the pandemic as well because of the color of their skin. Little by little, people are leaving this world and I’m afraid that we will only care when we are the last tree standing. I chose to do it in pencil because if I think of a color for this time it’s just grey and not colorful at all. It’s also in black and white to show that these are two important colors that are being talked about right now.
My fist drawing is kind of about Black people dying all around us and how we aren’t doing enough. I went to a few protests and some of them were violent which is when I left. The movement is strong and my favorite part of the protest was seeing the cops walking with the protesters. Those were the most peaceful protests. When we work together we can really make a difference, but when we are doing things alone, it gets hard.
Rose, 11th Grade
During the period of time where school first closed my mind was racing circles, I didn’t know what to feel or what to think because this was all so new to me. I remember looking through my window seeing vacant streets; much like a ghost town I heard nothing because I never left my home. Anxiety and fear were taking over.
The blue rose standing out from everything despite the other flowers around is symbolized for the two BIG issues we have: the Black Lives Matter movement and COVID. How it applies to the BLM movements is, yes, all lives matter, but not all lives are in danger and not every race is being killed at alarming rates by cops. And the COVID relates to my flower because right now it's hundreds of other diseases affecting people, but COVID is the biggest disease killing the people in the world rapidly at the moment. And the sunset represents peace, a solution to all the problems and a resolution.
Making my art made me want to reflect on things like what it meant to be a Black, young, what my grandparents went through and my great grandparents. It made me realize how lucky I am to never have an encounter with cops. And with millions of people dying, I’m lucky to have my life.
Answers have been condensed.