In 1987, New Jersey passed the Comprehensive Drug Reform Act to “ensure the imposition of stern, consistent punishment for all drug offenders, and transferred all drug offenses into the Code of Criminal Justice.” These policies disproportionately criminalized Black behavior; enabling the rhetoric of crime, drug use and poverty as a solely “Black” issue, despite the fact that non-Hispanic white people accounted for 69% of the opioid deaths in New Jersey in 2017. This legacy of racism through misrepresentation continues to shape the landscape of Newark today. Newark’s population remains largely Black, yet Black residents are still more likely to be the victims of pedestrian stops and underreported uses of force by police. There is both a need and method for changing this harmful narrative. Using a process-oriented approach, TCA aims to transform the negative narratives associated with the Newark community, focusing instead on the community’s vibrancy, diversity, and incredible resilience in the wake of continued generational trauma.
With the primary goal to map, galvanize, and support arts organizations and programs focused on community healing, racial justice, restorative justice, transformative justice, and criminal justice reform, TCA has created a community arts project that will promote the development of representative imagery in Newark, a community in New Jersey that continues to be extremely vulnerable to racially unjust narratives of the war on drugs, as one of primary targets for true drug policy reform and holistic rehabilitation. TCA is an outside organization working with a local community, and has to build trust with community partners to assure that the project reflects the voices, leadership, and priorities of the Newark community. The design of the project addresses this obstacle by prioritizing relationship building and community decision making. The project also requires considerable research and organizing support.
The Claiming the Visual Narrative Initiative executes its mission of targeting and undoing systemic oppression in popular culture in the form of community misrepresentation by forming Community Convening Cohorts (CCC). The CCCs are designed to be made up of different community stakeholders with its primary function to collaboratively conceptualize, fabricate, and install public art and media that represents the values and experiences of community members. The CCCs are designed to be formed in different spaces amongst different groups of people with the goal of using art in whatever preferred form to change public attitudes about individuals and communities impacted by the criminal legal system and inform representational policy solutions.