The art of ‘angelic troublemaking,’ as seen by youth in the Pittsburgh area

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The art of ‘angelic troublemaking,’ student art

What is an angelic troublemaker and what does that quote mean to you regarding human rights?

That’s the question Pittsburgh youth were challenged to ponder and express through art of any form by the Pittsburgh Commission on Human Relations in its ‘Human Rights Speaks’ art contest. Contestants submitted poems, essays, music and digital art.

The question at the center of the art contest was inspired by civil rights activist Bayard Rustin, who said: “We need in every community a group of angelic troublemakers.”

The Pittsburgh Commission on Human Relations, which is independent from the City of Pittsburgh government and enforces and ensures civil rights protections, invited young people grades kindergarten through 12th to participate. Winners were named in three groups: K-3, grades 4-8 and grades 9-12.

The commission chose 13 winners overall. PublicSource community correspondent Jourdan Hicks reached out to each of the winners to talk about their creative process and what angelic troublemakers can do to protect human rights.

Experience their art below and see what they had to say about it:

Isabella Stratman

a painting of two people on road inbetween grass. One holds a sign "Women's rights" the other holds a sign that reads "Black lives matter".

Isabella Stratman is a sixth-grade student at Pittsburgh Science and Technology Academy in Oakland. Isabella submitted a painting that depicts two individuals holding signs in protest. Isabella’s characters are wearing the same attire, blue pants and a red shirt. Their signs read, “Women’s Rights” and “Black Lives Matter.”

Q: What were some things you were thinking about while you were creating your submission? And what message do you want to leave with people?

Listen to Isabella’s answer here.

Q: What did you want your painting to address and express?

Isabella:  About how there is a reason people are doing this. A lot of people want equal rights. They want their voices to be heard, they want there to be changes.

Sasha Forrest

Sasha Forrest is a freshman at Pittsburgh CAPA in downtown Pittsburgh. Sasha created a graphic design using various quotes from the late civil rights icon U.S. Rep. John Lewis from Georgia. She paired his powerful words with vibrant colors and imagery to express and celebrate the important work of angelic troublemakers.

Q: What’s ‘the why’ behind your submission? And, what’s the impact you want your art to have?

Listen to Sasha’s answer here.

Q: What would you like angelic troublemakers to do in Pittsburgh?

Sasha: Well, I mean, there's definitely a bunch of things you can do. If you're of age, you can vote. You can protest, you can spread the word through social media, stuff like that. You can try to change the laws and change stuff. And yeah, something that I did was I made artwork expressing this. So you can definitely do that or like write something, just like try to get the message out. 

Amelie Sherer

Even when you look to the lantern,
you will only seek the light.
Do not see the fluttering moths
in the flickering night.
So, when the moths are all but trapped
beneath a cracking cup,
the ants will run and laugh and do
as an angelic troublemaker does.

(An excerpt from Amelie's poem "Ants, Spirits and Potholes."
Read her full poem here.)

Amelie Sherer is a seventh-grade student at Colfax Pittsburgh in Squirrel Hill. Amelie wrote and submitted a poem using metaphors to explain the need for angelic troublemakers in every city. The poem is in three parts but meant to be read as one collective piece.

Q: What makes someone an angelic troublemaker? And, how does having more or better human rights stop people from being treated badly?

Listen to Amelie’s answer here.

Q: How do you want people to feel and think after reading your poem? 

Amelie: I want people to kind of think about the world in a different way and see it through something more material and how that might reflect into our world. Like the potholes, which I wanted to use to represent a lot of different problems in society and how they're fixable. But there are also so many that it's hard to find them all.

I want them to, like, kind of feel change. Like, feel how the poem itself is changing and how I also want them to, kind of. ...And I also want them to think that just change is possible.

Talia Sampson

An “angelic” troublemaker is someone who does not do bad in the world. It is someone who will fight for others and be good. Someone who has passion and love. Someone who cares and feels for others, and can put themselves in someone else's shoes and feel what they are feeling and make them feel happy again. (An excerpt from Talia's essay. Read her full essay here.)

Talia Sampson is in fourth grade at Community Day School in Squirrel Hill. She says an angelic troublemaker is “someone who will be difficult for a good reason.”

Q: What would you encourage people to do to become angelic troublemakers? 

Talia: I would say try to stop if you're bullying, stop being a bully or just try to calm down. Just don't say it if you don’t have nothing nice to say, don't say it. Just be cool. Don't be mean. Try to be nice.

Q: What were you thinking about while you were writing your piece? 

Talia: I was thinking about my grandpa and my friends because, to me, they are like angelic troublemakers because I know that my friends would stand up for the other friends if needed and my grandpa would be an angelic troublemaker for buses because he had a disability so he couldn’t walk really. So he would make sure that the buses are accessible, so you would ride it.

Q: How does having better rights for everyone stop people from being treated badly? Do you think it’s easy to be an angelic troublemaker or difficult?  

Listen to Talia’s answer here.

Eliana Lee

Eliana Lee is a musician. She’s 8 and attends Pittsburgh Dilworth, where she is in the third grade. For her submission, Eliana composed an original music piece and poem she named “Standing up for What’s Right” about the importance of angelic troublemakers.

Q: What were you thinking about when you composed your song?

Eliana: So I was thinking about, like, whether it should sound like a major piece or a minor piece of music. And I decided that I wanted to come up with major chords, mostly.

Well, major chords make your sound happier than minor, and minor sounds are not quite so happy. That's where the sort of troublemaker part would come in and the major would be for angelic, so all together it would sound like an angelic troublemaker.

Q: What are the jobs of angelic troublemakers in our city? And why do we need them when it comes to voting?

Listen to Eliana’s answer here.

Q: When people watch your video how do you want them to react?

Eliana: If there are some bad rules or any kind of bad rule, then they should become an angelic troublemaker and they should treat everybody equally and change that to a good rule.

Marissa Steiman

Marissa Steiman is a fourth-grade student at Community Day School in Squirrel Hill. For her submission, Marissa depicted what she thinks are the steps to building an equitable and loving community for all.

Q: What were some of the thoughts that were going through your mind when you were creating the piece that you submitted to the art contest?

Listen to Marissa’s answer here.


PublicSource reached out to each of the winners but did not hear back from some. Their art is featured below.

Maya Giurgi, first-place winner


Samuel Kelly, second-place winner


Age group K-3

Daryn Cooper, first-place winner

Asante Pattison and Cereza Butcher, tied for second place

Asante Pattison's submission.

Cereza Butcher's submission


Age group grades 4-8

Julia Chapman, first-place winner


Age group grades 9-12

Madeleine Ng, first-place winner

Jourdan Hicks is a community correspondent at PublicSource. She can be reached at jourdan@publicsource.org.

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