By Shirley Hawkins
CRENSHAW — Dozens of teens, members of the Black and Asian Pacific Islander (API) Solidarity group, gathered Oct. 9 to unveil a mural painted to foster peace and understanding between Asian and Black youth.
Since the onslaught of COVID-19 last year, Asians have become the targets of hate crimes by members of the public.
The rise of hate crimes against Asians was especially disturbing to Billy Tiang, an electrician and member of the Black and API Solidarity who was surfing the internet last year when he stumbled across a video of a man urging a race war between Asians and Blacks.
“The guy was hiding his face behind a ski mask and he said something like, ‘I’m tired of seeing these Black kids attacking these elderly Asians.’ The guy then advised Asians to arm themselves to protect their communities,” said Taing, who said the speaker was brashly loading ammunition into guns and brandishing weapons in front of the camera.
“I was shocked and thought that the video was very disturbing and alarming,” Taing added. “I felt that if his message reached the wrong ears, listeners would agree with him and his words might incite violence between the two groups.”
Taing immediately called his friend Tim Kornehay, an African American.
“I told him, ‘Hey, the [message] this guy is spewing isn’t right. We have to do something about it.”
With the help of Diane Ujiiye, a local advocate and organizer, the three brainstormed about forming an organization that would foster solidarity and unity between Asian and Black youths. The three co-founders created the Black and API Solidarity coalition headquartered at the Asian American Drug Abuse Program building on Crenshaw Boulevard.
Black and Asian youths were recruited from several youth and nonprofit organizations and after several Zoom meetings, the youths collaborated on painting a mural that would symbolize unity and solidarity between the two groups. Muralists Jovi Sevon and Nhut Vo helped the young people with the project that depicts hands of different colors surrounding the earth.
Four figures hold hands in a symbol of unity as stars twinkle in the background. The word Solidarity is prominently displayed next to the mural in large white letters.
“We teach cross-cultural history lessons and address structural and systemic factors which contribute to the tensions between Asian and Black communities,” said Ujiiye, who added that the youths also learn to develop leadership skills. “The mural theme helps to convey solidarity, truth, power, history and love.”
“We want to continue this program and bring it to other areas as well,” said community organizer Jabbar Stroud. “Being a member of Black and API Solidarity has definitely been exciting and humbling because it gave me affirmation that the work we are doing is making a difference.”
Before the mural unveiling, City Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson congratulated the teens on their project and delivered a few words of encouragement. A representative from Los Angeles County Supervisor Holly Mitchell’s office presented certificates to the young muralists who were greeted with thunderous applause.
“It took three sessions for the youths to help draw the mural,” said Taing, who added the group started painting the mural in September.
During the ceremony, the teens lined up in front of the mural, which was covered in white paper. Organizers instructed them to rip away the paper and the colorful mural was unveiled as the teens proudly posed in front of their creation to enormous applause.
Fifteen-year-old Cyntrell Thomas, a student at Alliance Ted K. Tajima High School, said he helped to paint the stars and the huge Solidarity sign on the mural as he clutched his certificate.
“I am so proud and happy that I got to help out the community by helping to paint this mural,” he said. “The Black and API Solidarity group teaches you that race doesn’t matter because we are all human beings and we should all respect one another.”
Eunice Choi, 14, a student at North Hollywood High School, said, “I have been the victim of hate crimes. I’m Korean but people think that Asians are all the same. I’ve been targeted because people thought that Asians were the first ones to start COVID,” she said. “When I was In school or shopping at the supermarket, people came up to me and started calling me names and saying ‘Coronavirus’ and ‘Go back to your country.’”
Choi has found that the Black and Asian Pacific Islander Solidarity group has been a place to commiserate with other teens and to heal from the hate.
“All of the members of the group have gone through similar experiences and so we were able to talk about it and bond together,” she said.
Thirteen-year-old Dominic Davis, a student at Wilder’s Preparatory school in Inglewood, said he has enjoyed being in the group.
“My mom told me about it. I interviewed and was accepted,” Davis said. “I get to communicate with people that I have never met before and I made a lot of new friends. I also learned a lot about Black and Asian history.
“There was a time when Asians were blocked out of certain scenes in movies and TV shows. I was surprised to hear about that,” he said.
Halima Brown, a facilitator with Black and API Solidarity, recalls her early years in Jamaica where she recalls that race was never a problem.
“Whether you were Chinese, Jamaican or some other nationality, it didn’t make any difference,” Brown said. “It was only when I came to America that the (racial) attitude changed,” she said, recalling that when she was 7 years old she was traveling on a bus when a passenger turned to her and called her a derogatory name.
“This group really helped breathe life back into me,” Brown said. “The group is fun and it definitely makes me happy.”
Shirley Hawkins is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.