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New Tech Academy students present anti-racism 'Say Their Names' art exhibit

Ella Abbott
Claire Millers project, inspired by the lynching of 14-year-old Emmett Till, used separate pieces of cardboard stuck together to create a beat up looking casket with 'See Their Names' scrawled across the top.

New Tech Academy’s senior Government and Economics class created and displayed art at Saint Francis' North Campus with an anti-racism focus as part of their ‘Say Their Names’ project.

The project began as a collaboration between two teachers, government and econ teacher Bob Had dad and English teacher Beth Meneely. But, Haddad said, it started with Meneely.

“Her experience with learning about Emmett Till for the first time was really like the genesis of a project," Haddad said. "It was mainly focused on the trial and the tragedy of Emmett Till, but the aftermath of it got people off the fence.”

Till was a 14-year-old Black boy who was tortured and lynched in 1955, after a white woman accused him of flirting with her. Till was killed by the woman’s husband and his brother. Till’s mother had an open-casket funeral for the world to see how her son had been beaten beyond recognition.

Ella Abbott
Claire Miller holds her casket open, displaying the inside which is covered in newspaper clippings from instances of racial injustice and, on the bottom, the names and ages of individuals who have been victims of police brutality.

An all-white jury deliberated for less than an hour before returning a verdict of ‘not guilty’ for Till’s assailants.

In 2017, it came to light that Carolyn Bryant, the woman who had accused Till, admitted that he’d never touched, threatened or harassed her. It wasn’t until 2022 that lynching was declared a federal hate crime.

Meneely had gone through her entire educational career never hearing of Till.

And, once she had, she decided no student should go without hearing Till’s story.

One student, Claire Miller, decided to watch the documentary ‘13th’ and took inspiration from Till’s mother.

“His mom saying ‘I’m not gonna stand for this, we’re gonna have an open-casket funeral. You’re gonna see what you did to my son,'” Miller said.

Miller’s project is an interactive casket with ‘See Their Names’ scrawled on the top. When opened, the inside of the lid is covered with newspaper clippings from various instances of racial injustice and police brutality. Inside the casket itself are 28 names of people who have been victims of police brutality.

Haddad said that he had been focusing on systemic racism and, when they stopped co-teaching, he focused on the current activism of the Black Lives Matter movement.

“Whatever students want to engage with, any particular case of injustice, is theirs to choose,” he said.

Felicity Stockman chose to draw from more recent cases of police brutality: George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.

“I was at the protests in 2020 and it was kind of hard seeing, like, all over the news another man has been killed, a woman has been killed now, all these people have been killed for being who they are,” she said.

Stockman took inspiration from seeing the outcry following George Floyd’s death and hearing the story of Breonna Taylor to bring the two stories together for a digital magazine cover.

She used art from Floyd and Taylor’s respective cities that local artists had made of their likenesses and brought them together under the banner of Black Lives Matter.

Ella Abbott
Felicity Stockman poses next to her magazine cover mockup. Stockman took inspiration from the stories of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, and the protests that their deaths inspired.

Haddad said the project starts with helping students recognize where they have privileges that their fellow students might not.

“It’s definitely uncomfortable," he said. "I tell them, if you feel uncomfortable right now, that’s good. I don’t want you to feel bad, I’m not trying to make you feel bad, but if you feel, like, a little unsettled by some of the conversations we have about this topic, that’s probably for the best.”

He said that discomfort opens them up to having conversations about why government matters and why it’s important to pay attention to laws that are being proposed and passed.

And that discomfort also means students have to take time to consider the art they want to create and the story they’re looking to take inspiration from. Stockman said for some people, they may immediately know what they want to create, but others may need a minute.

“Me, I needed a minute," she said. "Because, how am I supposed to put myself out into my art? How am I supposed to bring light to what I don’t know as much about? I got the inspiration from looking around and realizing ‘Oh, I’m different but at the same time I’m the same as everyone else.’”

Other students took inspiration from civil rights leaders like Angela Davis, pioneers like Jackie Robinson or from their own lived experiences.

Two students, Cristian Alvarez and Connor Swolverland, put together a song about the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in 2012. Much like Emmett Till, Martin’s killer was found not guilty.

The exhibition was hosted at Saint Francis’ North Campus for one night on Tuesday, but the art will be on display at New Tech Academy for the rest of the month.

Ella Abbott is a multimedia reporter for 89.1 WBOI. She is a strong believer in the ways audio storytelling can engage an audience and create a sensory experience.