How do you feel when you see a police officer? That question can vary greatly based on where you grew up, where you live now, your skin color, your age, your political affiliation and your life experience.
It’s a question that has had resonance in the United States for decades, but it’s had renewed prominence for many over the past few months. It’s a question very much at the heart of demonstrations across the country and in our own city.
And, it’s one that Charlotte creative, Kat Martin, asked herself as she recently passed a police officer in her car. She found herself saying, “Damn, nothing happened to me.”
That led her to think about how very different her answer and her experience could have been for all the reasons above. It also led to a new collaboration with Charlottean, Kevin Aoussou, who she met while working at Queens University. Kat is a director, teaching artist and dramaturg who has worked at Queens, the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, Old Dominion University and the Children’s Theatre of Charlotte.
During the COVID-19 restrictions, Kevin moved back to Charlotte from Bloomington, Indiana, and the two reunited with a purpose.
What Can I Do? What Are Your Skills?
With discussions of racial justice and police brutality permeating the public discourse, Kat says that people naturally ask, “What can I do?”
Her response? “What are your skills?”
When it comes to creatives, that can be sharing your perspective through your work. Both Kat and Kevin believe that artists and creatives have a longing for collaboration and gather people together to share experiences and enter into dialogue.
Over the course of three weeks, Kat and Kevin worked with creative groups and individuals to form the Charlotte Coalition of Anti-Racist Artists (CCARA). Their goal is to use their talents, skills and art to share their feelings about racial justice and their personal experiences with the police.
The group’s goals, as stated in official communication are:
- Divest – “By showing the power of using alternative intervention organizations that have the desired training.”
- Defund – “We plan on defunding by holding our local government accountable to the will of the people through voting, and communication opportunities.”
- Divert Funds – “Education on how money can be better spent in the areas of education, supporting alternative intervention, and housing.”
Collboration and Conversation
One of the first steps CCARA hopes people will take is to write a letter or story (as long or short as they want) about their experiences and feelings about law enforcement and send it to email@example.com
“We’re not digging for drama. We’re looking for the ‘every day,'” says Kat.
The stories will form the foundation of a public event and discussion at Romare Bearden Park on the evening of July 31, which will be infused with performative and theatrical aspects. Charlotte organizations like WOC Theater and Feed the Movement are also participating in Friday’s gathering.
The plan is to read letters that were submitted and enter into artist-led discussions with participants to compare and contrast their own experiences after each. Healing and homeopathic stations will be available to participants. The even will also be accessible for deaf and hearing-impaired participants.
CCARA is also asking guests to come prepared for safe social distancing, including bringing a mask.
Kat says this is meant to be a peaceful event, but that they are prepared for how outside influences may affect the gathering. It’s important to CCRA that this is an expression of public art in a public space. Their hope is that this is a positive step toward systemic change.
“We want people to feel good, but be fired up at the same time,” said Kat.
Participating in the July 31 Gathering
Where: Romare Bearden Park
When: July 31 at 5PM
What to Bring:
- A mask and bottle of water
- A chair or blanket
- An object or photo to add to the alter space
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