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New Youth Exhibit Celebrates the Women of Bedford-Stuyvesant

BEDFORD-STUYVESANT — A new Andy Warhol-inspired exhibit at the Macon Library in Bedford-Stuyvesant for Women's History Month pays homage to women who have made a difference in the neighborhood's history.

DIVAS for Social Justice, a community organization that teaches technology and media literacy skills to young women of color, worked with a group of six girls between the ages of 8 and 18 to put together a series of screen prints to celebrate women of color in the community much in the same way Warhol did with his print of Marilyn Monroe and other female icons, said DIVAS cofounder Clarisa James.

"I felt like it was really important for the girls that we serve to know that there were women in their community who made big contributions," James said. "I think it's very important for children living in underserved communitites to be able to see people who look like them in leadership positions."

The art program, "Imagining Ourselves," is now in its fifth year, and has in the past focused on media representations of women in general, and women of color in particular, by having the kids create mock magazine covers using digital photos and photoshop. They've also worked on campaigns about reproductive rights and the environment.

The free program took about four weeks to complete, and the images are on display at the library until the end of the month, James said.

Famous Bed-Stuy figures include Shirley Chisholm, the first black congresswoman; Elsie Richardson, a community organizer whose activism helped lead to the creation of the federally-funded Bedford-Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation and other organizations like it across the country; poet and activist June Jordan; current State Sen. Velmanette Montgomery; and legendary performer and activist Lena Horne.

The project also included 18-year-old bronze medal Olympic swimmer Lia Neal, who is from Fort Greene but was included because James wanted someone closer to the kids' ages.

The kids picked names out of a hat and got to work, learning the history of the women along the way.

"They really took ownership of their pieces," James said.

The work will be celebrated March 19 at the library, when DIVAS holds a community exhibition. The ceremony will also pay homage to other women from the community in honor of Women's History Month.

With their newfound interest in women's history, James said she hopes the young artists take their lessons and help their community in the future.

"It inspires them to say, 'this person is from my community, so if they can make a difference, I know I can make a difference," James said.