Facing the Bigger Picture in a Small Town

Signs of Hope

Artifact #2:

Ethan Hines, Student, Fitchburg State University

When tasked with a mini cultural exhibition, my first instinct was to capture as many perspectives as I could on the broader topic of Black Lives Matter. Because it was such a relevant topic, and was at the forefront of the whole country's mind I knew it was a topic I wanted to explore. However, as a kid from a small community called the Brookfields in central Massachusetts, I was apprehensive that my limited world view could inhibit me from being able to fully cover the topic. After speaking to an ALFA member, I was given excellent advice to simply write what I know. With this advice in my mind, I chose not to try and capture what others saw in the bigger picture, but rather try and capture the story of my community's efforts to support the Black Lives Matter movement. I fell in love with this idea because I believe it gave a very fresh perspective on something that almost everyone is familiar with today. Coming from a smaller, more conservative town, this perspective also shared the interesting dynamic that unfolded as a small town faced the bigger picture. The struggle now was not to be able to encapsulate the entirety of a worldwide revolution, now it was to be able to give a complete understanding of exactly what went into exposing an often-sheltered community to the world of racial injustice and police brutality.

Capturing the essence of an entire social movement is no small task. The enormity of social impacts, players involved, sentiments shared, both through words and actions seems to be completely overwhelming. Even though what I was focusing on was only a small portion of the bigger picture, there were still so many moving pieces that made navigating how to tell this story the best way I could. I decided to utilize the 3 different artifacts entries, to each represent a different layer of the whole story. Since social movements such as Black Lives Matter are a representation of what the people are thinking on a given topic I wanted to have representation of someone involved, on an individual level. I also wanted to have a physical representation of the power of a group. In my second entry I strived to demonstrate the power of protest under a unified message. And finally in my third entry I wanted to represent the organizational level and the courage of the few leaders who chose to look for and demand change. With these three entries separately, I felt as though there was a thorough understanding of the different layers that made up the protest movement, in a small community facing the bigger picture.

Entry 1 The Individual: My first entry focused on the power of the individual. I chose to give an account of the simple act demonstrated by one community member that served as an example for what community looks like on the individual level. To represent the individual, I chose an image that captured simple, humble support. The photo is titled “Local Veteran Tom Bishop Takes a Knee and Offers His Support” and captures exactly that. As observed in the catalog entry, there are many reasons that this image represents something quite powerful. It is very likely that the simple knee of support taken by Mr. Bishop may not go down in history, but that does mean the action isn't still significant. The power of the individual can have a domino effect and go onto inspire others or symbolize something much bigger than themselves. When accounting the significance of Mr. Bishop’s actions directly, there is very little to be said about the significance in the big picture, but when you account for all the people who saw him with his knee of solidarity, in person or in the newspaper, the significance of his small action grew. The image is also particularly powerful as Mr. Bishop is wearing his military uniform. Many people see the uniform as a symbol of protection of the country and its citizens, so when a man in uniform is showing his support for the cause of racial justice, it could be argued that it looks as though he is offering much more than just support. Furthermore, the contrast of a man in uniform showing support not for the other men in uniform (the police), but instead for the people is also powerful.

Entry 2 Signs of Hope: The second entry was supposed to highlight the community level. After observing the individual and the significance of simple support, I wanted to then discuss the full extent of community involvement and chose to do this by equating the community with their signs. I chose the protest signs to bear the second catalogs focus because I feel that it represents the community in many ways. The first way that I feel it represents the community was the number of signs that were made for the movement. Secondly, many of the signs were individualized. This is significant because even though there were dozens of signs represented in the protests, each individual sign still represents the voice of the individual that makes up the community. And finally, I chose the signs to represent the community of the protest because it has represented it historically. Signs have been used in history for hundreds of years and continue to get more efficient in sharing a message clearly and oftentimes, cleverly. One article, entitled “The Signs Protesters Carry” by the Rolling Stone says “They have brought with them their anger and aspirations, their dreams and demands, their clarion calls for justice. They can be heard in their chants and seen in their sheer numbers, but the messages they bring are perhaps most vividly illustrated by the signs they hold aloft as they march.” This powerful quote supports the claim that signs hold the power of the movement, and continue the spread of its message.

Entry 3 Call to Action: The Call to Action entry stood to represent the leaders and higher level of organizations in the local protests. One critical step in any protest is to be the one to take the first step or speak up. A call to action can look like many different things and is essentially anything that motivates people to create change. There are many examples of media, art or even martyrdom that serves the purpose of a call to action. In this third entry a photo of a young local named Quincy Ogunfeitimi holding a bull horn up was selected to represent this concept. I also went on to account another significant leader by the name of Fitz Pucci. Both of these men really exemplified what I wanted to get across about the calling for awareness. Both raised their voices and helped lead people with their call to action. The third catalog entry went on to explore historical examples of calls to action. Big names such as Martin Luther King, Jr. and George Floyd more recently, both can be used as examples of a call to action. In the case of Martin Luther King, Jr., I used his infamous “I Have a Dream” speech as an example of a call to action. George Floyd’s death, although unintentional, also served as a call to action for the Black Lives Matter movement this year. In this example it took no words, the circumstances of his death alone were enough to motivate people across the world to take a stance against police brutality.

The connecting message: whether you're looking at the individual, the unified group, or the call to action, all of these examples accumulate to represent one thing: a small town and how it faced the bigger picture. Each part also serves a huge purpose towards the bigger message, without the individual, the strength in numbers we see in the group would be non-existent and without the call to action to motivate the people there would be no movement to begin with. In a small community where often times change is viewed as scary, social change and growth is still very possible.

Bort, Ryan. “The Signs Protesters Carry.” Rolling Stone, 15 June 2020, www.rollingstone.com/culture/culture-features/george-floyd-protest-signs-photos-1012560/. 

Butler, Donna. “The Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Legacy: A Call to Action.” Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Sisters of Providence, 16 Jan. 2018, spsmw.org/2018/01/15/dr-martin-luther-king-jr-legacy-call-action/.

Gibson, Caitlin. “Today's Protest Signs Are Sharper, Meaner, Funnier - and Live on Long after the Rallies.” The Washington Post, 21 Apr. 2019.

Lemaire, Sandra. “How George Floyd's Death Has Impacted American Life.” Voice of America, 26 June 2020, www.voanews.com/usa/race-america/how-george-floyds-death-has-impacted-american-life.

Ring, Kim. “Brookfield Rally for Black Lives Draws a Crowd.” Worcester Telegram & Gazette, 4 June 2020, www.telegram.com/story/news/2020/06/04/north-brookfield-rally-for-black-lives-matter-draws-crowd/113743278/.