Amanda KING ’07, Artist & Activist

A dedicated youth activist, artist, and entrepreneur, Amanda KING ’07 is the founder and creative director of Shooting Without Bullets, a youth advocacy program that focuses on identity development in black and brown teens through the arts in Cleveland. Committed to stimulating change in the Cleveland youth community, Amanda uses her creative background to inform, impact, and empower teens on complex social justice issues directly impacting their lives today. Through photography, candid conversations, and expressive arts, she confronts issues like racial injustice and police brutality head on to influence and effect reform in Cleveland at Shooting Without Bullets. A steadfast advocate and changemaker in her community, Amanda has also served as the youth advocate for the Cleveland Community Police Commision and as the producer of UNDEREXPOSED, a documentary that followed Shooting Without Bullets artists in their own journey of self-discovery.
Years at Ellis:Grade 9 to Grade 12
Location:Cleveland, OH
Occupation:Artist & Creative Director
Education:B.A. Art History, Bryn Mawr College; J.D. Case Western Reserve University

What inspired you to found Shooting Without Bullets, and how did you build this program from the ground up?
While serving on the Cleveland Community Police Commission as the youth advocate, I became increasingly frustrated and discouraged about the fact that youth voices were not at the decision-making tables. I wanted to create this program as a platform for youth to express their thoughts and feelings about the complex issues of systematic racism, police violence, and discrimination that they were experiencing on a daily basis, both in their lives and in the media. Art is my language, it is how I am best able to understand the world, so it was through this medium that I chose to engage and empower youth.

Why do you think the arts are so important for young people?
Art is a means of universal expression. Art transforms feelings, which are abstract things, into something tangible, which allows a person to step back and gain insight and perspective on their relationship with the world. The process of creating art can be such a cleansing and cathartic experience. The process allows one to engage in deep work and it takes you to a higher level of understanding. Art removes a lot of the barriers and rules about structure and how to create and instead allows you to tap into the feeling and focus on why you are creating.

Did the Ellis arts department shape your love of art?
Yes, I loved Ms. Sturdevant’s Arts in Society course! It taught me the importance of interpreting art and the beauty of the unsaid. In art, things don’t always have to be said to be understood. As an artist, I’ve carried this with me and it’s been vital to my art. Ms. Kaighin's photo class taught me the fundamentals of photography. Mrs. Moldovan’s AP Studio Art course was my first attempt at tying all of the learnings from my art courses together and allowed me to begin to develop my identity as an artist. Each of these teachers really helped develop me into the artist I am today. They never judged my work or tried to hinder my artistic voice, they allowed me to express myself in whatever ways I saw fit.

What inspired your advocacy for youth social justice issues?
When I was a youth myself, Ellis allowed me various opportunities to explore social justice and advocacy in meaningful ways. A small group of my peers and I organized Culture Jam, a day of peer-led social justice workshops for the entire Upper School, as well as invited schools from the Pittsburgh area. Our Student Diversity League club also regularly organized various social justice and diversity-related activities throughout the school year. If I hadn’t had these opportunities and been able to experience the value of advocating for such issues, I wouldn’t feel nearly as comfortable being such a bold and sometimes controversial activist.

What lessons has your work life taught you?
I’ve learned to be my own best advocate. It is so important to be strong in your convictions and stand up for yourself. In running a program that tackles such controversial issues, time and time again I have had to speak up and ensure that my voice is heard. Similarly, in fundraising and running a business, I must make sure that my needs, the needs of the youth I serve, and the needs of my organization are met.

What is your best memory of Ellis?
My best memories of Ellis were Culture Jam and an assembly featuring Jane Elliott that I helped to organize. I felt as if organizing these events and facilitating these difficult conversations was very much before its time, as we were living in an era of perceived “color blindness” and political correctness.

For Ellis students reading this: is there any wisdom you’d want to pass on to them? What would you want them to know?
When I was at Ellis, there were posters around the school that stated, “Well behaved women seldom make history.” I have carried this idea with me, and I have seen it to be true in my own life. As an artist and activist, I am often labeled an “agitator” and many try to discourage me or stifle my voice, but I know that it is when I stay true to who I am and what I believe that I ultimately have the greatest impact.

When you think of Ellis, what’s the first thing that comes to mind?
All-girls. Seriously, I’m so proud to say that I went to high school with all girls.

How would you describe yourself in three words?
Work in progress.

What woman inspires you and why?
The woman I am most inspired by is the Yoruba deity of love and sweet waters, Oshun. The story goes that God sent Oshun down to earth with several male deities. The men, cast her away, as they did not believe her to have anything of use in their work to prepare the earth for civilization. When Oshun left, all of the water dried up and the creativity died, and the men were unable to do their work (building, hunting, etc.). This story represents the importance of some of these abstract concepts that aren’t always appreciated: love sustains, creativity makes the world better, water is life. Never underestimate the power of a woman.

What does ‘Esse Quam Videri’ mean to you?
Be the change you wish to see. If you want to create change, you cannot simply tell people what’s wrong and how to fix it, you must start with yourself and live in a way that demonstrates it. You have to actively participate in the change process.