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Young artists and makers used their talents to raise funds for racial justice organizations

COURTESY OF LARK ZABEL - Lark Zabel sews masks as part of a new project called Mask On PDX. Mask proceeds were donated to Dont Shoot PDX and Campaign Zero.From baking treats to designing personalized stickers, teenagers across the Portland area have utilized their creative skills and their social media platforms to give back to organizations supporting the Black Lives Matter movement.

Tasneem Sarkez, who has been making and selling clothing for Black Lives Matter, is one of those creators.

"As a person of color (POC) myself, helping other Black, Indigenous and people of color feels right," Sarkez said. "I'm happy to help out because it makes me feel more aligned within the Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) community."

Many students in Oregon have donated fundraiser proceeds to Don't Shoot PDX, a local, Black-led organization that uses art and education to teach youth about social justice, while also providing community advocacy like mutual aid, legal referrals and jail support in its calls for social justice.

Don't Shoot PDX was founded in 2016 but has seen a major influx of unsolicited donations since George Floyd's murder.

Tai Carpenter, board president for Don't Shoot PDX, found out that teenagers were starting projects to donate money back to Black Lives Matter organizations after the Don't Shoot PDX Instagram page began getting tagged in posts related to these projects.

Carpenter was amazed by the creativity of the teens, and, because of the money they helped raise, Don't Shoot PDX has been able to increase its work from just demanding audits and accountability to also filing lawsuits. Carpenter is inspired by the young activists and all they have done for the community, she said.

"I'm glad that the youth realize that they can't expect their leaders to speak for them; they are their own leaders, and this is their future," Carpenter said. "It's nice to see that they're ready to make a change and they're demanding it, not waiting on the sidelines for an adult to tell them what to do."

We spoke with four youth activists about their projects and what inspired them to donate. Many recognized that, because COVID-19 affects lower income and BIPOC communities disproportionately, it would be counterintuitive to break Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendations. All four makers are taking necessary precautions to safely create and deliver their projects.

These interviews have been edited for brevity and clarity.

Tasneem Sarkez

Tasneem Sarkez, a 2020 Lincoln High School graduate, is now a college freshman at New York University. Learn more about Sarkez's work on Instagram here.

Tell me about the project you've been working on.

One of the projects I've done to help fundraise for organizations is selling T-shirts. In the beginning of quarantine, when the Black Lives Matter movement was taking off, I drew something related to how I was feeling about the police system. After talking to another artist, they told me that I could upload the drawing to a fundraising company [called Ink to the People]. Essentially, the design can be put on whatever products I want, and, because I don't have to worry about shipping, 100 percent of the profits go to the organizations I choose. A few weeks ago I also sold prints and donated 100 percent of profits to a Black-led organization of the buyer's choice. I covered shipping.

Who have you donated to so far?

COURTESY OF TASNEEM SARKEZ - Tasneem Sarkez designed and sold T-shirts like the one pictured here, critical of the police to benefit organizations like Campaign Zero, Black Trans Femme Art Collective and others. So far, profits have been donated to Campaign Zero, Black Trans Femme Art collective, Black Lives Matter, and Black Visions Collective.

Why these specific organizations?

I was interested in supporting organizations based in the arts mainly because I'm an artist myself, so I know how much value donations have to art collectives.

What inspired you to start this project?

I was inspired to do this because I'm not allowed to protest, but I still wanted to help out in the best way that I can. As an artist, a lot of my work in and of itself is activism, so I thought of these projects as an extension of that activism but in a way that brings money to others.

How does it make you feel to be giving back?

Living within white Portland has made it hard to connect with BIPOC, so, in any opportunity I can, I try to help or connect with others through events, live streams, supporting their business, etc. It just feels right to do. I've always had an affinity to support BIPOC because I think we need to help each other out.

What does the future of this project look like?

I'll continue this when I see where my efforts can be put to good use. I've organized donations and fundraisers before, but this is the first time I've incorporated my art into it. I plan to donate more donations to organizations like Skateistan, Islamic Relief, Palestine Children's Relief Fund, and others that have a focus in helping Arab countries and Arab communities in the U.S.

Update: Sarkez has since donated $400 to PCRF.

Lark Zabel

Lark Zabel is a junior at Lincoln High School.

Tell me about the project you've been working on.

My project is called Mask On PDX. We are focused on educating the public about the power of face coverings, distributing masks and giving back to the community. We are selling high quality fabric masks that come in a variety of patterns so people actually enjoy and [want] to wear a face covering. We also have a buy-one-give-one program, which means that for every mask bought, we donate one to [shelters and food distribution centers] like Rose Haven and the Clay Street Table, which is currently distributing masks to houseless people in the downtown Portland area.

Who have you donated to so far?

100 percent of profits from mask sales are split 50-50 between Don't Shoot PDX and Campaign Zero, unless specified by the buyer.

I don't think it would be fair to profit off of selling masks when I could be donating it to organizations that make real changes in the community. Our first donation goal is $100 to each organization.

By early October, Mask On PDX was able to donate more than $1,500.

Zabel noted she has a BIPOC collaboration line in which the profits from those specific masks go to the organization of the artist's choice.

Why these specific organizations?

When researching who I was going to donate to, I thought that it was critical that I choose organizations that are Black-led and that work toward police reform and ending police violence. I want to see change at both the local and federal level, so, for local change, I chose Don't Shoot PDX, a group that is more focused on the actions of the Portland Police Bureau and Portland in general. For more federal level change, I chose Campaign Zero because they have very clear policy solutions and have more power to put pressure on elected officials to enact change.

What inspired you to start this project?

Sewing and giving back to the community have always been my two passions. During the school year, I volunteer with a group called Flock Feast, where we serve houseless youth in downtown Portland. I was really disappointed with the news that we could no longer go and prepare meals, so I thought of donating hand-sewn masks. After showing the masks to friends and family, people were really interested in buying, but it really felt wrong to keep the money for myself. With the increase in attention on the Black Lives Matter movement, I started doing my research and found local and national groups that are working to end police brutality. I think that doing this work—educating, distributing masks and donating to Black-led organizations—is super important.

How does it make you feel to be giving back?

This is a tricky question. I feel like it is my duty to do my part in a time of injustice, so I'm not sure I feel a particular way. I feel good about supporting organizations and nonprofits, but I feel that, oftentimes, white or white-passing folx—an intentionally inclusive term for people representing marginalized communities and sexual orientations and identities—have this white savior complex about them. Through this, I just want to get more exposure to issues such as how COVID-19 disproportionately affects BIPOC and houseless people. It just feels good to be supporting change.

What does the future of this project look like?

I hope to continue this project throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. After a while, people will not need to buy new masks anymore, so the business will become basically obsolete. I then plan on shifting to a more educational angle. Because of summer and reopenings in counties and states, some people are completely forgetting about the fact that we are in a pandemic, so education will be a priority. I am still thinking of new ways to help fundraise for Black Lives Matter, police reform organizations and other Black-led groups.

Emily Zou

Emily Zou is a sophomore at Lakeridge High School.

Tell me about the project you've been working on.

I sell personalized digital drawings and stickers based on photos people send in. The stickers are really special because they're customized.

COURTESY OF EMILY ZOU - Emily Zou's personalized digital drawings and sticker designs were sold with net proceeds going to Don't Shoot PDX.

Who have you donated to so far?

I'm donating 100 percent of my net proceeds to Don't Shoot PDX. I take the shipping, delivery and material costs out of the gross proceeds before donating.

To date, Zou has raised $408 from sticker sales.

Why these specific organizations?

With the current social climate, it's important to recognize Portland's problems with police and racism. Don't Shoot PDX is a local organization and I wanted to make sure that my profits went to a group whose work impacted my own community. I think that Don't Shoot PDX's work is helping the Portland community become safer and more inclusive, and I wanted to contribute in any way I can.

What inspired you to start this project?

I was playing around with illustrator apps and started making digital illustrations just for myself, but I knew I wanted to contribute to a Black Lives Matter organization since I can't protest. Since I like making the stickers, I'm happy to donate the money.

How does it make you feel to be giving back?

It's very disheartening to see that BIPOC have been fighting for the same rights for decades but have not received it. I want to help achieve racial justice in whatever way I can.

What does the future of this project look like?

I'll continue this project for as long as people are willing to buy stickers. Again, I just want to contribute monetarily as much as possible and making stickers is like a stress reliever for me. Once school starts, I might have to slow down depending on how busy my school work gets, but I hope to continue for as long as I can. If people continue to buy stickers at the current rate, I might switch the organization I donate to, but it will definitely remain a racial-justice-focused group.

Calla Rhodes and Emily Cigarroa

COURTESY: EMILY CIGARROA AND CALLA RHODES - Emily Cigarroa and Calla Rhodes package baked goods for sale. The proceeds from their bake sale benefitted Black Lives Matter, the NAACP legal defense fund and other racial justice groups.Calla Rhodes, a 2020 Lincoln High School graduate, is now a college freshman at Georgetown University. Emily Cigarroa, a 2020 Lincoln High School graduate, is now a college freshman at Brown University.

Tell me about the project you've been working on.

In the wake of countless police murders of Black people and the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement, we decided to sell baked goods via Instagram to support organizations that fight police brutality, mass incarceration and anti-Blackness. Given the realities of COVID-19, we wanted to find a way to meaningfully yet safely support the cause of Black liberation.

Who have you donated to so far?

During our first round of baking and sales, we donated to Black Lives Matter, NAACP Legal Defense Fund, Black Visions Collective, The Loveland Foundation, Dignity and Power Now and Reclaim the Block. Our second round was Pride-themed to honor the end of June, so we donated to Black and Queer-led organizations including the Marsha P. Johnson Institute, the Sylvia Rivera Law Project, Black AIDS Institute, National Queer and Trans Therapists of Color Network, LGBTQ Freedom Fund and the Okra Project.

Why these specific organizations?

Throughout our first round, we chose organizations with a wide variety of missions. We definitely wanted some to focus on incarceration, legal defense and police brutality. However, we know that anti-Blackness extends far beyond these systems and we wanted to ensure we were supporting Black liberation in as many facets of life as possible. That's why we chose Black Lives Matter. There's a common misconception that they only focus on police brutality when, in reality, they are fighting for justice in schools, healthcare and so many more areas of life too. We also want to highlight the Loveland Foundation, led by Rachel Cargle, which is doing amazing work to provide mental health services to Black women.

For our second round, we chose organizations doing work to especially uplift Black and LGBTQ+ people. Many of the organizations we choose in the first round did have an intersectional focus with gender, sexuality, ability and much more, but it was important to us to also choose more organizations specifically created by and for Black LGBTQ+ people.

What percent of the funds you have received are being donated?

In total, we have raised $972, and, during the first round of baking, we covered the cost of ingredients and packaging to ensure that 100 percent of people's contributions could be donated. To make the fundraiser more sustainable, we gave customers the option to chip in a few extra dollars to pay for the cost of ingredients, packaging, gas, etc. during the second round of baking. Additionally, a local bakery, Baker & Spice, provided us with boxes to put the baked goods in free of charge.

What inspired you to start this project?

The recent, horrific murders of Black people including George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, Nina Pop and others drew our focus back to the urgency of anti-racism work. We wanted to find a way to channel our anger into meaningful action, and we both like to bake, so we figured a bake sale would be perfect.

How does it make you feel to be giving back?

Honestly, it doesn't feel like we're "helping" BIPOC so much as we're returning a small part of what Black people are owed. This country was built on the backs of enslaved Black people and centuries of institutional racism have continued to maintain a system in which white benefit comes at the expense of BIPOC oppression. We believe that what we're doing is what should be expected of all non-Black people. All credit goes to the Black thinkers, organizers, artists and advocates making meaningful change in the organizations we're supporting.

What does the future of this project look like?

We've paused the project for now, as we feel that we've gotten as many donations as we could out of our customer base—mainly friends, acquaintances and social media followers—for the time being. However, we would love to continue as long into the future as people will continue to donate.

This story has been updated since it first published.

Cate Bikales, a junior at Lincoln High School, is one of two summer interns working for Amplify, a Metro-supported project aimed at elevating the voices of students from communities historically underrepresented in local newsrooms.

Amplifying voices

This story is possible because of Amplify, a community storytelling initiative of Pamplin Media Group and Metro, the Portland regional government. Amplify supports two summer internships for high school journalists in the Portland metro region to cover important community issues. The program aims to elevate the voices of student journalists from historically underrepresented groups, such as communities of color, low-income residents and others. Pamplin Media Group editors oversee the interns, and Metro plays no role in the editorial process. Read more at oregonmetro.gov/news.


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