As protesters took to the streets to demand justice for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade and countless others who have been killed at the hands of law enforcement, Bobby Coffman was there beside them in Los Angeles.
Coffman, a rising senior majoring in aerospace engineering, captured the energy of these moments on camera. With a click of a button, he photographed protesters on the frontlines, cop cars on fire and youth skateboarding in the street.
“That was basically kind of what I based the little project, I would say, off of because you can see the resilience of Black culture even in times of hardship,” Coffman said. “You see these Black youth skating on a burnt-down car while police are shooting tear gas and rubber bullets at people. No matter what, the street will always belong to the people.”
The film photographer, who began his craft during his sophomore year at USC, wanted to document the experiences protesters had to go through to fight for justice. When taking photographs, he focused on capturing moments that highlighted the energy of the protest, such as protestors going head-to-head with the police while wearing face masks to protect themselves.
“This is a very important movement for the culture, especially right now,” Coffman said. “I just kind of wanted to show everybody else what it is kind of like to be on like the frontlines of a violent protest, I would say, where things are on fire, and there’s definitely tear gas being shot.”
Initially, Coffman did not intend to sell the photographs, but after people expressed their interest, he saw the opportunity as a way to raise money for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, a law firm that, according to its official website, “seeks structural changes to expand democracy, eliminate disparities, and achieve racial justice in a society that fulfills the promise of equality for all Americans.”
While on-the-ground protesting has been an avenue for many to get involved with the Black Lives Matter movement, Mekhla Kapoor has been unable to do so in fear of spreading the coronavirus to her grandparents. Instead, Kapoor, a rising junior majoring in computational neuroscience, has been using her love of painting to fundraise for the Black Lives Matter movement. Kapoor has never sold her own art on such a large scale before; the magnitude of the moment, however, inspired her to seek out more ways to get involved.
“I care a lot about Black Lives Matter, and I don’t really see it as a political issue,” Kapoor said. “I wanted to do more to help towards it. I did the donations [with] what I could for my family [and] with our income and everything, but I wanted to do more.”
With every donation that she gets, Kapoor has been matching it through several contacts and organizations, such as USC Project RISHI, a nonprofit organization that leads initiatives in India and Los Angeles.
Those who donate are able to choose between three different paintings: a cartoon character of the person who did the donation, two people holding hands and the Black Power fist. Kapoor creates the color schemes of the paintings based on the donor’s Instagram feed or their favorite colors.
“I incorporate my own style for painting with adding flowers and a lot of nature-y stuff, so a lot of clouds,” Kapoor said. “And I’ve also added henna on a couple of the paintings like the hands since I’m Indian.”
Similar to Kapoor, Kendall Work is selling his art for the first time to collect donations. Work, a rising junior majoring in mechanical engineering, takes classes outside of his major at the Roski School of Art and Design and is selling posters of singer-songwriter Solange that he created in a digital design class.
“I hadn’t sold posters before, but I decided it would be one of the ways in which I would be able to raise a lot of money really fast if I was able to just sell my posters and step out of my comfort zone and raise my voice to garner donations, and it ended up working out pretty well,” Work said.
Work was initially hesitant about whether his voice would be heard, but thanks to support from family and friends, he has been able to raise more than $700 for ActBlue, an organization that splits donations between several groups fighting for racial justice.
“I’m starting to become more comfortable just putting my artwork out for people to see because it’s been received fairly well so far,” Work said. “So I think it’s something that I can keep doing, and even if it’s not for other people, it’s something that I’ll still do for myself.”
Kevin Yin, a rising sophomore majoring in media arts and practice, has also been using his digital art skills to fundraise for racial justice. Yin has been creating commissions in order to aid in the movement as an ally, and he’s no stranger to advocacy work. In high school, Yin created graphics for student groups leading movements such as environmental protests, school walkouts and women’s marches.
Yin is part of a campaign called #CommissionsForChange, a fundraising project originally started by Stanford University student Amy Lo. The process for getting a commission done involves submitting proof of donation, filling out a form and sending Yin one to three photos that he transforms into digital art.
“Some people call it digital photo edits or photo art, but it’s supposedly like a collage feel,” Yin said. “You take different elements in the photos and you change them with blending layers and then other elements.”
Emily Fuesler, a rising senior majoring in art and media arts and practice, also participates in #CommissionsForChange as a way to support the Black community. From a young age, Fuesler found comfort in various forms of art. As she grew older, Fuesler knew this was the career path she wanted to pursue.
“I’ve always sort of [wanted] to use my art to bring change to the world and to bring about escapism and to imagine sort of a better world,” Fuesler said.
Fuesler has done similar advocacy work before; to help those who experienced stress due to the coronavirus pandemic, she designed a coloring book that doubled as a mood tracker. Now, she is creating stylized portraits for anyone who submits proof of donation to any organization benefiting the Black Lives Matter movement.
“One of my friends nicknamed them acid portraits, so that’s sort of what I’ve been calling them,” Fuesler said. “They’re just really, like, bright and colorful and kind of trippy looking portraits of people.”
Fuesler has recently joined #CommissionsForChange and has received a positive response. So far, a lot of her close friends have submitted forms, but Fuesler hopes to expand her art activism and garner more interest. Fuesler, a Latina woman, said she wants to use this moment to uplift the Black community.
“I think a really important part of being an ally is to understand that this is about something so much bigger than yourself,” Fuesler said. “And that you really need to educate yourself and learn and listen to other people who just haven’t been listened to for so long throughout our history.”