Social Justice Through The Expression Of Art: A Journey of Initiating Small Change Within the Community 

How one step of courage turned a dream and vision into reality


Photo by Esther Chung


Despite the kitchen drowning in a chorus of overlapping voices, the Cantonese news reporter’s voice rings out, buoyant and powerful. Maa Maa sits, hunched over, clutching a thick stack of newspapers, attentively scanning each one as the radio plays beside her. Not once does she look up in the face of the relentless background jabbering. Instead, she reads each paper with an upturned smile, engrossed by the neverending printed words. 

Growing up, I never understood why my grandma spent so much time reading newspapers. I was not the type of kid who could spend hours preoccupied with books. I simply found them boring and a waste of time. Why would you spend your time sitting and reading when you could go out and have fun? She would say that “fun is not just running around. For me, fun is reading the news and learning what is going on in our world. The world doesn’t only revolve around you.” I was too young then to understand and grasp the magnitude of the importance of the news. 

Although with time, I grew more aware of the reality in which we live. It was not until I witnessed the video of a policeman consciously choosing to strangle George Floyd who laid defenselessly on the ground pleading for his life saying, “I can’t breathe” that I realized how much more progress needs to be made within our country. In those few excruciating minutes caught on video, I could feel the weight of those three words and it was a crushing moment of realization about the state of our country. It instilled an arising global consciousness in me that compelled me to ask questions and search for answers, for ways to alleviate these issues. 

Since then, I’ve dreamt of initiating change within my community by fostering discussions with other young people, like myself, about social issues. During freshman year, I started creating my own social justice art workshops for teens within my community. Reaching and working with various community and youth organizations, like the City of Palo Alto’s Think Fund, Palo Alto Teen Arts Council, and the East Palo Alto Center, further helped me create and plan these workshops. In these workshops, the goal was to encourage teenagers to use art to advocate and raise awareness in the community about current social issues. 

During these workshops, I not only was able to gain leadership skills, but form meaningful bonds with other teens and become more open-minded to various viewpoints and perceptions. It was inspiring to see participants passionately discussing and addressing issues like the Black Lives Moment, the glossing over of Native American history, perpetual Asian hate during the pandemic, misrepresentation in the media, unrealistic beauty standards, etc. 

A few art projects displayed at the Riconanda Library

What was even more rewarding for me was how this workshop could bring together teens from all different backgrounds into a space where everyone can openly share their thoughts and opinions. 

Seeing how many teens were passionate about helping to bring change motivated me to continue running these workshops. My younger self would have never thought that I could make such an impact within my community with my passions for art, advocacy, and a step of courage. I could have never imagined being able to unite and foster new friendships among people and organizations through collaborations for the art workshops. As I finish this article and reflect on my journey of initiating small change within my community, I look down at my finished paper, smiling with satisfaction just like my grandma had.