Klondike/Smokey City students fight gang violence through art

Brittney Bullock wants to teach girls in the Klondike/Smokey City neighborhood that artists can make it in Memphis as well as effect change. At their first exhibition on Oct. 29, her apprentices will show a series of screen printed posters that condemn gang violence.

For the past eight months, Bullock has met weekly with students in the North Memphis neighborhood to develop them as artists and entrepreneurs. The group of eight were paid for their time as apprentices and helped form the poster series from ideation, to budgeting, to evening hours spent screen printing at the Klondike/Smokey City Community Development Corp. center. 

"I wanted to really open up this idea of using art as social enterprise or the understanding that art can be seen in the gallery space but it can also be used to draw social change," said Bullock, an artist and youth program manager with the Memphis Music Initiative.

The girls decided that they wanted to generate a collaborative art piece that calls for an end to gang violence.

"Young girls are typically overlooked when we talk about gangs," Bullock said, adding that many of the girls participating in the apprenticeship program have to face gang activity on a daily basis. 

One apprentice, a 15-year-old student at Northside High School, was no exception. She was killed as a result of gang violence a couple months after the program began. 

"It was that moment where it was obviously devastating and hard for us to get over this loss, and then at the same time it was a revelation, like we clearly need to be doing this. So we continued on," Bullock said. One of the three posters in the series is designed to honor the victim. 

During the weekly sessions, Bullock and her partners Khara Woods and Drea Powell acted as a mentors for the girls. Bullock showed the apprentices her Cooper-Young studio and other working artists’ studios in Berclair and Binghampton. 

Ca'Terrya Hillson, a senior at Douglass High School, said the apprenticeship program helped her foster communication skills and a budding interest in art. 

“A challenge for me was coming here and meeting new people,” she said. “It helped me work on my attitude too. I usually keep stuff in, but we would have these little group talks, and I’m more comfortable talking about my problems.”

Bullock said that she hopes to launch another iteration of the apprenticeship program, which was founded this year with the help of a grant from the Assisi Foundation.

At the Klondike Smokey City apprenticeship celebration on Oct. 29, the girls will show off their screen printing skills and display their posters for sale. The event runs from noon to 4 p.m. at 943 Vollintine Ave. 

"I think the biggest take away from this program was to really understand that the collective voice is of high value," Bullock said. "When you get young people in a room together and you allow them to be their authentic selves, change always happens."
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Madeline Faber is an editor and award-winning reporter. Her experience as a development reporter complements High Ground's mission to write about what's next for Memphis.