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Seventh Annual Social Justice Symposium Spotlights Activism in Art

2013 Social Justice Symposium Spotlights Activist Art

The intersections of art, grassroots organization and community advocacy took center stage at this year's Social Justice Symposium, as activist artists were invited to deliver the event's keynote presentations and performances.

Click here to watch video footage of the seventh annual Social Justice Symposium.

Organized by Berkeley Social Welfare MSW students in recognition of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, the seventh annual Symposium featured keynote talks from Favianna Rodriguez, a transnational, interdisciplinary artist and the co-founder of CultureStrike and, and Julio Salgado, the co-founder of and a queer, activist illustrator whose art draws attention to the plight of undocumented students. 

"People always emerge, and they emerge victoriously. They emerge victoriously because knowledge has been passed down. It has been passed down in a method that can never be silenced – the arts," stated Berkeley Social Welfare graduate student and Symposium organizer Francisco Alvarado (MSW '13). "It is the power of the arts that our keynote speakers celebrate today."

In her keynote speech, Rodriguez, whose art and activism focus on migration, global politics, economic disparity and challenging patriarchic structures, underscored the ability of artists to influence public perception and affect shifts in civil and human rights. Among the examples she cited was the widescale boycott of South Africa by performing artists during the 1980s and early 1990s that helped bring apartheid to an end in the country. "Culture is powerful," explained Rodriguez. "Culture is how people form their identity – through music, film [and] what they’re exposed to. It’s how they form their ideology.

"We have to really value culture because culture is where these ideas are played out," she continued. "We need the artists’ quadrant, and we need to resource that quadrant. Artists need to have the space to create as part of our organizing."

In addition to Rodriguez and Salgado, who shared his personal experiences as an undocumented, gay artist whose identity drives his work and community activism, the Symposium featured an afternoon performance by spoken-word artist Jasmine "Jazz" Hudson. An Oakland native and arts educator, Hudson remarked, "I really appreciate having a forum and a platform to talk about art as a movement in social justice.

"I think a lot of people are not acknowledging the fact that art can really inspire and change lives," she further noted. "Spoken-word poetry … definitely got me on the path that I am now."

Click here to watch video footage of the seventh annual Social Justice Symposium. Footage includes welcome remarks from Rose Ellen Epstein (MSW '13), introductions by Francisco Alvarado (MSW '13), keynote presentations by Favianna Rodriguez and Julio Salgado and a keynote performance by Jasmine "Jazz" Hudson.