Voices of Youth: Poetry and art on gun violence

This article is part of Concentrate's Voices of Youth series, which features content created by Washtenaw County youth in partnership with Concentrate mentors, as well as feature stories by adult writers that examine issues of importance to local youth. In this installment, Voices of Youth participant Elleona Ragland shares her visual art and poetry on the topic of gun violence.

Artist's statement on "The Hands of the Named," pictured above:

I'm Elleona Kristine and I’m an ordinary high school student. There are so many things I am unsure of but one thing that is for sure is that I'm an artist. My art is usually about issues I see around me and things I observe in my community. In my art I am not afraid to use bold colors or dark themes. Topics I write and paint about are gun violence, body image, mental health, LGBTQ-related problems, and more.

This acrylic painting called "The Hands of the Named" focuses on gun violence. The hands in the painting represent victims of gun-related deaths and the positioning of the hands is open for interpretation.The color palette of the painting is orange and red. I choose to use orange to represent a sunset because on a lot of obituaries I have seen it refer to the person's time of death as a sunset. The names written on the background are names of victims from Ypsilanti.

Gun violence has affected me personally and the people I hold dear to me. For so many years I have watched but now this painting and the corresponding poem is my way of finally speaking up about it. 

The statement of my project is that gun-related deaths happen more often than they should and in most cases they could've been prevented. The lack of urgency to make a change will decay our communities. We go to school, work, or everyday activities with the fear of not coming home. People should never have to put up their hands in fear of being shot.

Elleona also composed the following poem for her Voices of Youth project:

A young boy only in middle school
Saw his parents' gun on the table and thought it was cool. 
He was hanging with his friend showing off the deadly weapon. 
He was just a kid, his finger slid then … POW another mother has lost a child now.
The boy couldn't believe what he was seeing. 
His friend was bleeding and he stopped breathing. 
The boy now has blood on his hands from his dearest friend.
It's a tragic story that is always being repeated,
In order for these children to avoid tragedy, lock it up away for them not to see. 
Another boy thinks he's a man.
He gets caught up in wrongdoings with his friends. 
One thing leads to another and he shoots a man dead. 
His hands are now forever stained with the blood of not just a man, a father, a brother and a mother's son who will never feel the warmth of the sun again.
The boy that thinks he's a man is also a mother's son who will never feel the sun again. 
He's surrounded by cold concrete and iron bars. 
Instead of these boys having blood on their hands and making two souls depart, they could have shot for the stars. 
The boy who thinks he's a man had no one to teach him to shoot higher than the head. 
The young boy will never pick up a gun again. 
To begin with this situation could have been prevented, his parents should have never left it. 
A trauma that will run deep under their skin.

Concentrate staffer Yen Azzaro served as Elleona's Voices of Youth mentor on this project.

To learn more about Concentrate's Voices of Youth project and read other installments in the series, click here.