Last summer’s local art installation focused on racial justice and inclusion.
In an effort to ignite conversations about race and bring awareness to the Edina community, local organizers and students came together last summer to develop a public art installation, Seeds of Change, at 50th and France. Created on over 30 waterproof canvases, each piece showcased artistic interpretations of racial justice and inclusion crafted by over two dozen members and allies of Edina High School’s Black Student Union (BSU), Good Samaritan Peace Frog Camp participants and community artists.
“We want this community to be what it truly can be and represent everybody,” Seeds of Change organizer and member of the Edina Arts and Culture commission Rebecca Sorensen says.
In response to the tragic death of George Floyd, BSU worked to shed light on issues of injustice to create a more inclusive Edina. As a neighboring city to Minneapolis, former BSU president Rachel Adegbenro says it was necessary to partake in the conversation because, “as we get into the suburbs and out of the inner city, we have the opportunity to ignore what is going on.” She explains this is part of the power of privilege and the role it can take in preventing change.
Wanting to make George Floyd and Black Lives Matter a household name, Adegbenro says she and others in the BSU organization turned to educating and providing people with resources to stay informed and get involved. Organizing a supply drive in wake of the Minneapolis riots, BSU members managed to collect over two truckloads of food, supplies and household items to deliver to South Minneapolis neighborhoods in need. Continuing their efforts last summer to make an impact, the organization also led a city-wide march from Edina High School to the Edina Community Center. “We are different people, but we all came together for this cause,” BSU board member Phoebe Taiwo says. “We all knew something was wrong and we all chose to address it.”
Looking for ways to continue the conversation and the work of BSU, Sorensen reached out to the organization’s members in hopes of developing another community-centered initiative. Thus, Seeds of Change was born. The idea behind the project stemmed from Sorensen’s experience seeing the mural work that Minneapolis artist Alexander Parker crafted following the death of George Floyd. “I kind of got upset and wanted to do something about it, the only way I knew how was to draw and paint,” Parker says about the reasoning behind his creations. After viewing the painted boards, Sorensen says she was inspired by the messages created by this Black artist and felt inclined to bring that degree of awareness to the Edina community.
Collaborating with Parker, and members and allies of BSU, the group also teamed up with 10 youth artists (students in second through sixth grades) that were a part of Good Samaritan Church’s Peace Frog social justice camp. “It was meaningful to the kids that they got to see that they have a voice,” Peace Frog organizer Heather Miller says. “Just because they are kids doesn’t mean that they can’t make a difference.”
Showcased in flowerpots alongside fresh flowers that were donated and planted by the Morningside Women’s Garden Club, the artistic messages flourished. To commemorate the hard work of the artists, the city of Edina and the 50th & France Business and Professional Association hosted a free outdoor event to introduce the project last July. Drawing quite a socially distanced crowd of residents and community members, mayor Jim Hovland and representative Heather Edelson also joined to speak. Edina High School Choir students sang in tribute and chalk artist Michele Erin contributed to the creations. “It was so inspiring to see a community of black, white and all races working together, it was a beautiful thing, and it is how America should be,” Parker says.
As a way to introduce new growth and implement change to create a better future fit for all, Seeds of Change truly lived up to its name. “Planting seeds of change, planting seeds of conversation, planting new opportunity and growth, what could be,” Sorensen says. “What is great is that the soil is fertile and ripe and ready for these changes and for this growth.”
Recognizing the work of the BSU, Adegbenro and Sorensen, the Human Rights and Relations Commission (HRRC) of Edina honored Seeds of Change with the 2020 Tom Oye Human Rights Award in December for their efforts in advancing equality and human rights in the community. Established in 2006, the nominated award is a tribute to HRRC founding member Tom Oye. As a former Nisei soldier in WWII, a second generation Japanese American who served in the 100th infantry battalion on the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, and recipient of the Prize for Humanity by the Immortal Chaplains Foundation in 2003, Oye emulates courage and dignity through his efforts in improving human relations within the community and beyond. “People saw what we did, appreciated it and we were recognized for our efforts,” Adegbenro says. “It feels really good to see that what we did didn’t go unnoticed.”
Though the award is a wonderful pinnacle to a successful event, organizers stress the importance of acknowledging that this is just the beginning of implementing change in Edina. “The award does not mean we are done,” Taiwo says. “I want to see active movements to keep progressing and not revert back to what it was before.”
With hopes of continuing to progress as a community, former BSU members and community members alike are not giving up on their mission. Though there are no specific plans in place for a similar event right now, Seeds of Change participants are doing what they can to continue the conversation of diversity and inclusion in Edina. “If anyone is inspired to take a stand, just go for it,” Seeds of Change logo designer Anna Devine says. Even if only a few hear the message, incremental change can still be achieved.