SANTA CRUZ — On Jamie Joy’s first day working at the Diversity Center of Santa Cruz County, they knew exactly what they wanted to accomplish.
“One of the first things Jamie told me was, ‘I want to make a mural,’” said Alex Santana, who now works side-by-side with Joy as the organization’s youth coordinators. “It was their dream from the start.”
This weekend saw Joy’s dream come to light.
A sizable group of local youth, leaders and supporters gathered at the Louden Nelson Community Center on Saturday afternoon to celebrate the completion of the mural, which was worked on by youth from all over Santa Cruz County.
The crowd first gathered inside the building for speeches by Joy and Santana, mural designers Emmanuel Garcia and Oliver Whitcroft, Public Art Manager Beth Tobey and others, before heading outside to ceremoniously cut a rainbow ribbon in front of the completed mural.
“To see it finished is a real testament to our youth,” Santana said. “They are fully engaged. They are progressive. They possess so much dedication and love for their community and for future generations.”
Two years ago a small group at UC Santa Cruz donated $800, which they earned through putting on a fashion show, toward creating the mural. After a year and a half of organizing and designing, painting began in November.
The mural, entitled “Unify, Decolonize, Thrive,” is dedicated to marginalized groups throughout history. Viewing from left to right, it tells a story — of various resistance movements, of challenges members of the LGBT+ community and people of color have faced, as well as their accomplishments.
“I’m honored to be part of this,” Whitcroft said. “I’ve learned so much working on this piece. This isn’t just about being on the right side of history. It’s a bridge to the future.”
Youth from Santa Cruz to Watsonville, many involved in the Diversity Center’s Youth Program, have been lending a hand in the mural’s creation since the beginning. Sharon Esther Paso, executive director of the Diversity Center, spoke directly to the youth who were present at Saturday’s event.
“You are the young leaders who are building our world,” she said. “This mural is a gift to our community. Thank you.”
Joy hopes that the experience of working on the mural would inspire Santa Cruz County’s youth to continue fighting for what they believe in.
“For these young people to see their vision come to life is so powerful,” Joy said. “I have a feeling they’ll be going on to do some great things.”