In the winter of 2019-2020, I ran two classrooms at Camp Joseph Paige, a youth prison camp in the mountains east of LA. I also taught workshops at a Community Day School in Compton. We were severely limited in the kinds of materials we were allowed to use. I’ve taught in detention facilities for a long time, but this was the first time I was limited to just chalk and pencil. I remember my first day in Compton I was running through a lesson on pattern-making rooted in the African Diaspora, and this kid straight up told me ‘This is interesting, but this isn’t my culture so why should I care?” The kid had a point. The most important part was to learn the tools, so we took the tracing and carbon paper they would have used to make stencils and applied it to Old English lettering instead.
Due to the limitations of the spaces I wasn’t able to give the kids exacto-knives to convert their designs into stencils for a final product. That led me to create a friendship with the Downtown Long Beach Library maker space, which had a laser cutter. I’d work on designs with students and then once a week I’d go to the library to laser-cut their projects onto matted watercolor paper or wood panels. I also brought in local Compton artist Mel DePaz to talk about her work which is rooted in celebrating the multi-cultural, blue collar identity of the city. She made a big impact on them, and the rest of the semester was focused on creating panels that celebrate something in their neighborhood they identified with. Everybody’s work was ultimately featured at the Vincent Price Art Museum in East Los Angeles. Their main exhibition at the time was Double Vision, the photography work of George Rodriguez.