Revised (Originally published in The Bison Fall 2020)
“I was in my studio on my couch, eating Pringles in despair, all my limbs just like poring over the edges, and really upset with the passing of Justice Ginsburg,” Shawnee artist LeAnne Henry Wright said.
Wright’s grief led her to create the upcoming Nov. 3 art show “I Dissent, Art Show of Gratitude” and the accompanying “Notorious Walk and Luncheon” in partnership with Community Renewal of Pottawatomie County and Emmanuel Episcopal Church. The walk and luncheon event will pair 20 essay contest winners with female mentors in the legal community.
The owner of LeAnne Henry Wright Art Gallery in downtown Shawnee, Wright said she wants to help local girls have the kind of mentorships and role models that she experienced through her grandmother, Bedelia Faye Rose.
The one-year anniversary of her grandmother’s death was near the time of Ginsberg’s death and both deaths inspired her to create the art show and essay contest.
“They [Ginsberg and Rose] would want me to continue on and find something good to do,” she said, “no matter how big it is, or small it is, just continue working for the betterment of others, and especially the betterment for women and young girls in my community.”
Community Renewal office manager and club administrator Sherri Thompson said the event has three goals.
“First of all, we feel like kids need communication tools,” Thompson said, “and the written word is a really important communication tool, so this is not the first essay contest that we’ve been a part of just to help kids develop and hone in their ability to write their thoughts.”
Secondly, the event aims to teach students about history.
“We’ve lived a little bit of history, and we’re teaching a little bit about the legacy of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and all of the things that she has done to advance women,” she said.
Finally, the essay contest’s primary goal is encouraging mentorship relationships.
“We envision the beginning of a relationship between a young woman who’s setting goals for the future, and an older more accomplished person from the legal field, who is also still setting goals,” Thompson said.
The contest has two categories: fifth through eighth grade and ninth through twelfth grade. Information on how to enter can be found on the “I Dissent, Art Show of Gratitude” Facebook event page.
To participate, students are asked to write and submit an essay answering one of two prompts: “Describe a female role model that has impacted your life in a positive way, or describe what a female role model that you wish were present in your life would look like,” according to the online application form.
There is no required word count and the deadline is Oct. 16.
The submitted essay will be judged by a panel including Stuart and Clover Law Firm attorney Breanne Gordan, Associate District Judge Tracy McDaniel, and Special District Judge Emily Mueller.
Then 11 a.m. Tuesday, Nov. 3, the outstanding submission writers will be recognized at a luncheon hosted by Emmanuel Episcopal Church and introduced to their new mentors.
The date was deliberately chosen to coincide with the upcoming Presidential election.
“Wherever you fall on the political spectrum, you’re going to be most likely nervous and have no idea what’s going to happen,” Wright said. “And for me, I thought that an opportunity to declare a positive thing is happening that day. I’m connecting young girls with strong mentors to better their lives.”
Erin Jones, former White House Social Aid and Personal Executive Assistant to the Chief of Information at the Navy Office of Information, Pentagon, will speak at the luncheon.
“I think it’s just the perfect woman to come and have her share her story,” Wright said, “and really give them an image, a real-life person who come from the same place but it went out there and did big thing broke down big barriers to do them.”
Thompson said the lunch will be closed to the public due to COVID-19 safety concerns.
Interested individuals will be able to watch it live streamed on the event’s Facebook page, Wright said.
Then noon, Nov. 3, the public is invited to join the luncheon participants in a walk starting at Emmanuel Episcopal Church.
The group will walk to Shawnee’s courthouse before continuing on to the LeAnne Henry Wright Art Gallery on Mainstreet for the opening of Wright’s “I Dissent” art show, themed around Ruth Bader Ginsberg. Further information about the event will be posted on the Art by LeAnne Henry Wright Facebook page.
“I just got this force of I gotta do something,” Wright said. “So, I stood up and I just dropped my Pringles, and I walked to a four-by-five-foot Canvas I had there, blank, I tossed it to the ground and I grabbed a can of paint, black paint, I just started walking around it, doing a quick, pour drawing […] paints just pouring out of the canvas, I quickly drew Justice Ginsburg’s dissent collar.”
This painting became the first of a serious of projects themed around Ginsburg’s dissent collar that will be part of the art show.
“She wore that specific color when the court was delivering an opinion, that it was more than her not agreeing with [the court decision],” Wright said. “I think a lot of people don’t understand this, she’s writing these dissent letters as blueprints for the future for others in Congress.”
Wright’s art show combines aspects of art and politics.
“Art can be anything that you need it to be, you know, I, it’s my voice,” Wright said. “Anything that I’m struggling with, I can, I can communicate it quite clearly to my work, especially someone who, as myself as dyslexic, has a lot of troubles with my ability to do procedural things and remember, I lose the name and faces, I have years of my life that are gone through my concussions.”
She said she hopes that her work will help bring awareness to others.
“I think […] as an artist, this is a very healthy way for me to communicate my concerns, and also communicate my ability to help others, especially those who might not be equally represented,” she said.
She said she hopes that “I Dissent” will transcend partisan political boundaries.
“Sometimes that’s going to look political but also think it’s just basic human decency,” Wright said. “You know, you can call that Republican or Democrat, but I think that’s where we kind of all need to shift back to is, like, just being decent and kind […] If you have a strength that helps someone who has a weakness, then surely, […] it’s on all of us to recognize that and to act on it.”
Wright has had many female mentors who inspired her.
“It’s time for me to continue these legacies of other women that I’ve had,” she said. “And reach out and just be that big bear – you know the image you see of a young bear who’s scaring off a lion but there’s big bear behind that little bear that’s also up on her back legs growling? Like, I want to find young girls to stand behind, and make their voice louder.”
OBU students and community interested in helping mentor young women in Shawnee can get involved through Community Renewal.
“If they are truly interested in a mentoring sort of relationship or volunteering with our kids’ club, they can go to the Community Renewal website,” Thompson said. “And there is a button that says: ‘I’d like to get involved’ and you can sign up to volunteer for kids club.”
Community Renewal has clubs at local elementary schools, the middle school and the high school.