by Jess Clarke
[dropcap]W[/dropcap]hen the members of Youth Spirit Artworks (YSA) heard the devastating news that Street Spirit could be shut down, these youthful leaders immediately began brainstorming ways to support the Save Our Street Spirit Campaign.
Like Street Spirit, YSA also has a vendor component in its program that creates income opportunities for low-income and homeless youth. Each week, YSA youth sell their art at local businesses and farmers markets in Berkeley, and receive half the proceeds of their sales.
They understand firsthand the incredible importance of Street Spirit to the hundreds of vendors for whom it has provided income for the past 22 years.
“What I love about Street Spirit is that voices of the displaced are being heard that otherwise would not be,” says Sean McCreary, YSA Peer Support Leader. “Without Street Spirit these voices would be unheard, marginalized, ostracized.”
Essence Richardson, YSA Aspirant and Special Projects Leader, says that, “Street Spirit provides an income when times are hard.” She is excited by the idea of working to strengthen both YSA and Street Spirit by bringing the two projects together under one roof. “I plan to be a youth writing trainer, to write for the paper and to sell the paper,” she says.
“I think Street Spirit will provide an opportunity for Youth Spirit Artworks to get publicity out and communicate with many more people, and to spread the word,” says Khalil Kelly, Social Media Junior Artist.
Kelly and Richardson are not alone in their enthusiasm. At a packed meeting of the YSA Board of Directors on Sept. 22, 2016, the whole organization took up the challenge of finding a new home for Street Spirit.
Following up on a decision earlier in September to become the fiscal sponsor of the project, the board approved an 18-month plan to transition Street Spirit into a project of Youth Spirit Artworks.
YSA artists currently design and sell T-shirts, tote bags, hand-crafts and fine art to the public and are looking forward to the broader opportunities that Street Spirit’s presence will bring to the group.
Malina King, Community Organizing and Outreach Leader, is inspired by Street Spirit’s “unique purpose focused on poverty and homelessness,” and plans to “write articles, poems and cover events.”
In just a few sessions, the group developed some great ideas for integrating the work of the two organizations and submitted them to the YSA board in winning approval for the new collaboration.
They are planning a four-fold approach to the partnership with Street Spirit.
1) Youth leaders will serve on the Street Spirit Advisory Board, providing content ideas for the paper.
2) They will work with the editor creating content for the paper, including stories, comics, poetry, and artwork.
3) Youth vendors involved in Youth Spirit’s art sales will include the paper as their lowest priced item when they are out in commercial areas selling their art.
4) Youth leaders will use the paper as a vehicle for mobilizing the community around social justice campaigns.
YSA and Street Spirit, Connected at the Roots
The common ethos of Street Spirit and Youth Spirit Artworks is not a coincidence. Sally Hindman, the founder of Youth Spirit Artworks, also had a hand in the inception of Street Spirit.
Twenty-two years ago, she approached Terry Messman, who was the director of the AFSC Homeless Organizing Project (HOPE), with the idea of creating a street newspaper for the East Bay modeled on the groundbreaking work of the San Francisco Coalition on Homelessness’ Street Sheet.
She had first met Messman when they were both seminary students at the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley and they had both had independently been organizing homeless advocacy work in Oakland.
Despite many on-the-ground successes in the organizing and civil disobedience he was doing at the time, Messman felt the mainstream media wasn’t doing the job when it came to fairly presenting the issues of poverty and homelessness.
“We got a lot of positive media attention for those actions, but I grew more and more concerned that corporate media outlets were completely denigrating poor and homeless people.” said Messman in a recent interview about the paper’s origins. So when Hindman came to him with the idea, the time was ripe.
The two co-founders worked together to launch the first issue of Street Spirit in March 1995. Messman served as editor — as he has ever since — and Hindman organized the first team of homeless vendors who sold the newspaper on the streets of Berkeley and Oakland. The vendor program has had a number of coordinators since then, and is currently managed by JC Orton of the Night on the Streets Catholic Worker in Berkeley.
In 2007, Hindman founded Youth Spirit Artworks after having worked for almost 20 years in a variety of poverty rights advocacy and service organizations.
The YSA organization provides studio space, art supplies and programs for creating art; a community arts program that creates murals and public art; and the burgeoning vendor program that in addition to providing income, teaches business and money management skills to low-income and at-risk youth.
Hindman very much sees her work with Youth Spirit Artworks as a ministry. When reflecting on just why she is taking on this new mission at a time when her own organization is already facing enormous fundraising challenges of its own, she looks to her faith. The first thing she did upon receiving YSA board approval for her new venture in partnership with Street Spirit was to post a prayer request to her Facebook page.
As a Quaker social justice minister, she believes she is “serving God through this ministry of fighting for justice,” and by helping people on the margins of society to be heard by facilitating and encouraging “faith-based art for liberation.”
In understanding why she is taking on this partnership with Street Spirit now, she says, “Spirit has been at work in this process in exciting and creative ways. We believe this new collaboration has the potential to utterly benefit and empower homeless and other underserved youth.”
Her thoughts and prayers are echoed by others in the faith community. David Vasquez-Levy, President of the Pacific School of Religion, says of the renewed partnership, “I am excited to see this collaboration, including the fact that it brings the work and commitments of two of our alums together in powerful ways!”
But Hindman also points out that this is not going to happen without concerted support from the communities that are served by Street Spirit and Youth Spirit Artworks.
“Please join the Save Our Street Spirit Campaign,” she says with urgency. “We can’t afford to lose this essential platform for human rights and social justice, and we can’t let down the 100-plus vendors for whom this is a literal lifeline.”
For more information about Youth Spirit Artworks visit www.youthspiritartworks.org