July 8, 2010

Less than 2 months ago, Flint’s mayor and city officials decided to try one last ditch effort to stem the violence that has been plaguing the city over the last couple of years. They called for a “cease fire”. A phrase typically heard in times of war, that is exactly how many citizens in Flint’s worst neighborhoods feel about the state of affairs in their community. With the city’s murder rate ranked 7th in the nation for 2009, and ranked 2nd for violent crime, the people of Flint are desperate to take their community back… and now.

Back in December 2009, Mott graphic design student DeMarcus Smith designed a campaign aimed at his fellow young black males with the clear message that shooting another person “does not take talent”… that it is an incredible waste of what innate and real talents they may have, not to mention the lives that are lost along the way. DeMarcus would be embarrassed for my writing this, but he has truly demonstrated his commitment to making change through his art and his actions. One that was writ large was his commitment to his family, especially acting as a protective father figure to his young niece, making sure she gets to and from school safely in his dangerous neighborhood.

Because DeMarcus’ project was so provocative, it had an immediate gut-wrenching response from his fellow students and the faculty. He was given a Gold Award and a poster from his project was selected for exhibition in the student show to be held in early May.

But on April 27th, just days before DeMarcus was to graduate with honors from Mott, he received the worst news. His sister Sheena, mother to his niece, was shot dead. He said she was in the wrong place at the wrong time, trying to help a friend get out of trouble. All of us at Mott who know DeMarcus also shared his pain.

When it came time to hang the student show that was opening May 7th, I had to make a change to the piece we had selected. I was afraid that the original one selected – showing a gun pointing at a young man’s head – would just be too strong… not for our audience, but for DeMarcus and his family who we had anticipated coming to see the show. Instead we hung the poster that was the original concept map, showing a weapon with the parts named and their metaphorical meanings.

Our hope is that we can bring DeMarcus’ expanded campaign to the Flint public, the mayor’s office and leaders in the community. If it provokes conversations, then it will be successful. If it makes some people involved in violence think twice, then we truly have made change. It’s the least we can hope for future young people like DeMarcus’ niece growing up in the city of Flint.

~ Mara Jevera Fulmer, Professor/Program Coordinator, Graphic Design
C.S. Mott Community College
Flint, Michigan