MAPLEWOOD, NJ - When Maplewood resident Julie Burstein scrolled on Facebook and glimpsed an illustration of hands grasping across a barbed-wire fence, a gut feeling urged her to share it. “Where are the children?” the image asks. The looming question surrounding children currently separated at the U.S. border is etched in a protrusive shade of red. Cuban-American artist Edel Rodriguez created the illustration inspired by Goya’s painting Saturn Devouring His Son.
Burstein spotted the image on the Facebook profile of Holly M. McGhee, a fellow Maplewood resident, children's book author, and president of the New York City literary agency Pippin Properties, Inc. She teamed up with McGhee to found Raising Our Voices Today, a project aiming to distribute protest images by respected children’s illustrators.
“Art communicates on an emotional level things that are very difficult to capture intellectually,” Burstein said. “Our hearts have to be broken open in order to change. We just want to share this beauty and this heartbreak and allow other people to share it.”
The pair originally intended to make posters for the global “Families Belong Together" rallies on June 30, which protested Trump’s zero-tolerance border policy. The Raising Our Voices Today website launched a week before the rallies with five posters up for download. They began modestly, Burstein said, distributing posters at a rally in Montclair.
As more artists enlisted, the project’s collection of illustrations grew over twice its original size. “Each time I’ve sent out a call for new art from illustrators in my industry, it comes in fast and gorgeous and loud, infused with hope for better times to come,” McGhee said in a press release.
Soon, Raising Our Voices Today postcards and posters hit over 1,000 downloads, Burstein said. The images could be spotted at worldwide “Families belong Together” events, from Seattle to Tokyo to Brooklyn.
“People are responding and taking this art and carrying it and using it in their own ways, which is exactly what we had hoped,” Burstein said.
The project did not end on June 30, however. When Sen. Dick Durbin called for letters of encouragement to separated children, Raising Our Voices Today listened. The site now features postcards in Spanish as well as illustrations for children who cannot yet read or write. “We are thinking of you” and “Your dreams are your wings,” the cards declare.
Raising Our Voices Today could not succeed anywhere besides Maplewood, Burstein said. After meeting her at a local children’s book panel a few years ago, she was not surprised to find such a powerful image on McGhee’s facebook page.
“It was so natural to me, when I saw this image, to reach out to her because we’re here, we’re in Maplewood,” Burstein said. “We know that we want to do things for our community.”
When Burstein sought help with graphics, she easily found it in a SOMA Facebook group. Maplewood resident and artist Jennifer McClory responded to her post and currently designs the Raising Our Voices Today postcards, Burstein said.
“I’m so grateful to be living here,” she said.
For those looking to get involved, Maplewood Library will hold a postcard-writing event on Wednesday, July 11, between 4 p.m. and 5 p.m. Residents can send Raising Our Voices Today images to children isolated from their families.