In celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History (MAH) continues to weave the dream MLK once had and advocate for racial justice. Calling for collaboration from the Santa Cruz community, the MAH collected 31 submissions from local creatives including poems, articles, paintings, digital drawing, and artistic collages for the MLK Day Justice Journal.

In previous years, the MAH partnered with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) for the NAACP’s annual march and hosted bookmaking art activities for people to make their own journal. This year, the MAH plans to bind all the current submissions into one collaborative and cohesive journal.

“The MAH is super privileged as a wide-known and wide-led organization,” said outreach coordinator and the MLK Day Justice Journal organizer Helen Aldana. “It’s important for us to use that privilege to do good and to give back. A big part of that is collecting and preserving these stories through projects and initiatives like the Justice Journal.” 

August Stevens, a third-year UC Santa Cruz student, inspired by the series of letters her mom wrote to Dr. King, took the prompt to have a conversation with Dr. King. 

From Disney’s 1946 animated film “Song of the South” to Beyoncé’s 2016 album “Lemonade,” Stevens’ family witnessed the progression of media representations of Black people through different generations. Along with Barack Obama’s presidency and Marvel’s 2018 blockbuster “Black Panther,” Stevens wonders what MLK would think of the Black excellence in this era.  

“I’m really lucky that I’m growing up in this time. In 2010 and onwards I was able to experience these really great representations and movements of Black creators, taking the spotlight and taking their agency back, and being able to share their own stories,” Stevens said. “[Racism] is still there but it shows itself in different ways. Even now, especially through the colorism in TV [it] shows.” 

In her submission, Stevens also pointed out that cancel culture limits the growth for people to understand topics like racism as it becomes more about calling people out rather than holding them accountable. 

With such discernment, Stevens wishes to ask Dr. King what degree of tolerance we should have toward racism and what he thinks of cancel culture.  

MAH journal submission pages of art and writing fly into an open journal.
Illustration by Allison Che.

Some participants also brought attention to the power structures of capitalism that enable discrimination.

One such submission is from Yazlin Juarez, a second-year UCSC student. In her journal entry she wrote about how corporations like Walmart and Amazon benefit from politicians who enact racist policies yet the corporations put out “blanket statements” to support the BLM movements that have no actionable steps.

Juarez said that the corporations are two-faced, claiming to stand for diversity and justice, but enacting policies that divide communities of color. 

“Capitalism benefits not only from cultural appropriation but from ideological appropriation that allows the powerful to line their pockets and avoid actual change,” Juarez wrote. “Before the next MLK Day, I want to bring an end to the commercialization of activism and take Black History Month out of the hands of corporations.” 

Aside from written responses, other submissions featured in the journal include an artistic collage of pictures of nature, women, and words like “growing” and “power”, and a digital painting of a shining star in coral red symbolizing hope and direction. All of the submissions depict stories of the past and a vision for the future of social justice.  

As many participants shared their perspectives and stories of social justice, the MLK Day Justice Journal connected members of the community during Black History Month and created an inclusive space that advanced the march for social justice.

Seeing different stories and experiences across Santa Cruz county, MLK Day Justice Journal organizer Helen Aldana was happy to be part of a community that documents and shares the justice people envision.

“Why MLK Day still exists is really to do service to the community and to continue to march and move forward. ‘If you can’t run, walk. If you can’t walk, crawl,’” Aldana said referencing King. “‘But the point is that you have to keep moving.’”

Depending on the reopening plan set by Santa Cruz County, the MAH will determine how the journal will be displayed for in-person viewing.