Trenton Health Team is partnering with local artist Bentrice Jusu to create public art throughout the city celebrating the lives of violence victims, mourning their absence and encouraging the emotional conversations needed to heal our traumatized communities.
“The Potential Project” will employ storytelling, visual art, photography and digital media to remember those lost to violence in our community. An interactive website will debut Juneteenth, an important date in African American history marking the day in 1865 that enslaved men, women and children in Texas finally learned the Civil War had ended and slavery was abolished — more than two years after President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation.
In addition, a panel discussion featuring local artists collaborating on the project will be hosted by Jusu during Artworks Trenton’s virtual Art All Night festival at 11:30 a.m. Sunday, June 20.
“I’m using this project to really show how much potential our city has lost to violence,” Jusu said. “But I also want to show that each of us also has the potential to create a better city, where we can all heal together.”
The Potential Project, supported by The Kresge Foundation, reflects Jusu’s experience with violence, including loss of people she loved, and the lack of resources available to residents to process and prevent the cycle of trauma.
The project website, www.potentialproject.art, will include links to mental health resources and allow community members to voice their experiences. As the project unfolds, website content will expand to include individual stories and original artwork remembering those who have died.
Jusu also plans to install markers at locations significant to life stories shared to illustrate the relationship between trauma and place. Community members will be able to use a phone to scan these markers to view original digital art and a story page on the website. She hopes sharing stories will lead to healing for victims’ families and our city.
“It’s not an elixir; this project is not going to fix it,” Jusu warns. “But it’s a necessary conversation to have.”
For THT, this project expands ongoing efforts addressing trauma in our community. “We recognize that art is a perfect catalyst for difficult conversations,” said THT Executive Director Gregory Paulson. “This project will create an example for other cities struggling to begin the conversations that lead to solutions and healing.”
Jusu is working with a team of Trenton artists, including Big OOH!, one of Trenton’s best-known hip hop artists; Hana Sabree (poetry/multimedia); Terra Applegate (poet); Diego Gordon (videographer); and Jennet Jusu (dance). Artists are creating a multimedia “collage” for each person’s story that incorporates interviews with people who knew them as well as videos, photographs, and original artwork.
Because art is not linear — it touches on several themes, reflects several realities and raises several questions simultaneously — it enables each individual to react or respond in a personally unique way while allowing those interactions to evolve based on emotions, thoughts and desires the individual brings to the experience, Jusu noted.
And that makes it a perfect vehicle for launching desperately needed conversations among ourselves and our public officials about violence in our community, its roots, its manifestations, its impact and its antidote.
“This project will inspire conversations from the top down, and the ground up,” Jusu said. “People ages 5 to 90 can do something with it.”
Community members will also be able to add their own stories and ideas on how to reimagine our neighborhoods to end the violence.
In the second phase of the project, Bentrice and the creative team will work with residents and local experts in healing, trauma, and mental health to design a community-based trauma response team to assist residents experiencing trauma or mental health crises. Technical assistance is being provided by Kimme Carlos, an expert in urban mental health challenges and healing; the Mercer County Office on Mental Health, and Artworks Trenton.
“I want people to know these lives didn’t go in vain,” Jusu said. “These lives are not reduced to the day of their death.”