‘Be allies for one another’: Activist, artist Edythe Boone reflects on changes

Photo of Black activists in Berkeley
Edyth Boone/Courtesy
Longtime activist and Berkeley resident Edythe Boone works with these communities and voices their concerns by creating murals.

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As a hot spot for activism, the city of Berkeley has a long history of cultivating change. The city has seen community organizers protest and rally for free speech, disability rights and various movements for reform, among others.

Voicing the injustices of marginalized communities, the Berkeley community continues to strive for change.

Longtime activist and Berkeley resident Edythe Boone works with these communities and voices their concerns by creating murals.

Originally from New York, Boone grew up in Harlem before moving to Berkeley about 40 years ago.

“I lived in New York,” Boone said. “When things affected my neighborhood, I jumped right in to go and solve the problems.”

One of her most important memories, according to Boone, was going to the March on Washington. She said she felt hope there, a hope that continues on for Black people to have a better future ahead of them.

Boone is a self-taught artist and was an art teacher. Throughout her time as a teacher, Boone hoped to broaden students’ perspectives. During the winter holidays, she would ask parents to donate essential items to the unhoused community living in People’s Park.

After collecting donations, she would have her students wrap them up, which typically totaled about 50 boxes worth of donations. Boone noted that after one donation, there was a storm, and one of her students expressed concern for those living in the park.

“My intention was to help them get to see the world in a different way, and I think that I was able to achieve that,” Boone said. “We have to get people to care again, to be human again, to really know that these people are human beings — and we need to help them.”

Boone added that she hopes others share a similar level of concern for those living in the park and also showed interest in protesting against park developments.

Boone also worked on a mural featured in People’s Park, but it was taken down due to consistent vandalism. The mural is currently in storage, however, and Boone hopes to restore the piece and have it featured again at the park.

All of Boone’s murals showcase various aspects of the community and, according to Boone, she constantly knocks on doors in the community in order to gain insight from community members about current issues or topics.

“I want to know what they want in their community,” Boone said.

She includes people, phrases and symbols that the community finds important in her murals.

In a piece created at the Richmond Library, seniors are at the center of the mural. According to Boone, the mural also includes a quote, stating, “I am so tired of seeing young people dying, and we carry their coffins, and they should be carrying ours.”

Another mural Boone has worked on was for a Bay Area school. Boone said she talked to several hundred students beforehand and primarily featured youth in the mural.

This method, according to Boone, is how she tries to reflect the feelings and sentiments present in the communities she visits.

“That’s what murals do, they teach people that if they really look deep, they can see what the artist was trying to say,” Boone said.

In light of the events surrounding the Black Lives Matter movement and calls for racial justice, Boone expressed her support and happiness in seeing young people advance the movement, in addition to recognizing the importance of voting.

She touched on how new methods — such as using cellphones to document racist encounters and police brutality — are helpful and hopes that this will increase awareness and accountability.

Boone also expressed frustrations surrounding the lack of change in the treatment of Black people, adding that most people are aware of the inequalities in society.

“What are they gonna do about it?” Boone said. “Are they gonna be the allies? Are they gonna speak up?”

Noting the importance of taking action and voicing concerns, Boone recalled her own experiences of facing obstacles to create the life that she wanted and how Black people continue to face various inequalities.

Boone said she still has hope for the future of Berkeley and its diverse community.

“Berkeley is a place where people could live together in a diverse way and love one another,” Boone said. “There is a possibility that we can live together in peace and help and be allies for one another.”

Contact Mela Seyoum at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @melaseyoum.