Healing Reflections: "We The People" by Michelle Basman
"We The People"
Story & Art by: Michelle Basman | Minneapolis, MN
Covid exposed us all to an ugly virus, but it also exposed us to what was happening to mainly people of color. I had been volunteering for years at Sumner Library, teaching English as a Second Language (ESL) near downtown Minneapolis. The adult learners were from all over the world, many had escaped horrific situations and found a “safe” place in Minneapolis. However, during the riots after Mr. Floyd was killed, the Sumner Library got boarded up among hundreds of other buildings. One could only imagine the fear an immigrant felt, wondering if their newly adopted country would erupt into a civil war. Because of Covid, the school was shut down Lloyd Brown (who runs the Open Door Northside for adult learners) and I thought that once the school opened, we would welcome all back with the beacon of literacy, light and truth mural. The year 2020 and what Covid-19 wrecked down on us all, will never be forgotten. But the resolve to carry on in a better way hopefully, is what we all need to do.
The mural depicts what happened in Minneapolis during 2020. Mr Floyd’s death began a great awaking. I have indicated a fire near him but then the swirling of light and hope as it moves across the landscape. We the people all want justice, knowledge and truth. The Sumner library is the brown building in the background, the Mississippi and downtown Minneapolis are depicted too. This beautiful city became ground zero of a movement for justice. The tree and it’s roots and leaves will become a place that the learners will write their names or a sentence of inspiration. That still needs to be done and will be once the school reopens.
The flags are to show where the majority of adult learners are from. As I am from South Africa, I put my flag there and I also painted the women in the pink dress - she is Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela, a psychologist South Africa that was on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission 25 years ago. I painted her in to bring the symbolic "healing" of a system of injustice. She was not here in Minneapolis 2020, but she is an inspiration on how a country can heal itself.
I was born and raised in South Africa and came of age during the darkest moments of Apartheid, seeing the gross injustice. I was in art school and began painting some of the protests and sadness that I saw. The Government was arresting people, torturing and killing people for any suspicion you were against the white-nationalist regime. One couldn’t show a painting depicting a protest such as this. The ones I did, I hid. I married a South African and we both felt we could make a difference and tried, but landed up getting into trouble with the Government and leaving the country as fast as we could get out.
However, we were among the lucky ones as we had family in USA and they put us up while we tried to get work visas and a path to living permanently here. It took many years, but we finally got our green cards and felt safe. The United States was a beacon for us and for so many around the world, but the murder of George Floyd and the Administrations blatant intolerance to immigrants and refugees brought us right back to the memories of South Africa’s struggle.
For more information about the Healing Reflections gallery or to get involved with the project, contact Sara Martinek.