San Jose actor Jeffrey Adams portrays Robert F. Kennedy on the 50th anniversary of his presidential campaign speech in St. James Park in downtown San Jose.

Meet the K880 Emerging City Champions 2017: Amy and Omar

It’s been almost a year since these urban innovators have launched projects to make their cities more engaged, safe, healthy and fun. Find out who they are, what they’ve created and what they’ve learned.

by Emma Jones, Jonathan von Ofenheim

Amy Chamberlain

San Jose, California

Meet the Champ: Amy Chamberlain was raised in San Jose, the city where she now works as a public servant. Having also worked in Seattle, Spokane and San Francisco, Chamberlain is passionate about bringing fresh ideas to her hometown and showcasing its unique culture and history.

Amy’s innovation story: Amy’s project is all about making the history of a now-neglected park in San Jose come alive.

“It was built to be like the Capital Square of California,” says Amy, of the park, which is currently a gathering space for homeless communities. “A lot of folks don’t know that. And that’s just one element of history of many that we have in that park.

On March 24, Amy hosted a reenactment of Robert F. Kennedy’s presidential campaign speech, 50 years ago, which took place 50 years ago, in the park.

The project was a collaborative effort: “We got a bunch of history experts in San Jose involved, we had a steering committee, we had a bunch of downtown arts-based community organizations come out and be involved in different ways.”

The speech landed on the same day as March for Our Lives, the massive national, student-led protest against gun violence, launched after 17 people died after a shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

“It became this really, really strong space for political discourse,” says Amy, adding she witnessed discussions, among people of all ages, about equity, immigration and access to education. “It ended up being really powerful. It was amazing.”

The reenactment was so successful, Amy hopes to make events like these happen more regularly. San Jose is growing exponentially, she says, so looking back could help the city define its future: “We want to make sure that the city maintains its identity through its history.”

Omar Crenshaw

Charlotte, North Carolina

A Golden Nuggets student art show at the Baku Gallery in Charlotte, N.C.

A Golden Nuggets student art show at the Baku Gallery in Charlotte, N.C. (Photo via Golden Nuggets)

Meet the Champ: 
Omar Crenshaw works as a career coach at a community college in his hometown of Charlotte, North Carolina. His background in psychology and passion for graffiti art blend in his life and work. He’s interested in “what art and other forms of creativity can do, therapeutically, for your well-being.” Though he doesn’t have formal training in art, he says he always drew and doodled.

“I didn’t realize how creative I could be until I started doing it.”

Omar’s innovation story: When Omar was in university, he took to doing graffiti art in the tunnels that led to the stadium. “It was just a situation where you could go in there and spray paint anytime — anybody could do it — [and] it would change over every week,” he says.

But when he moved back to Charlotte, he no longer had a place to do graffiti.

“So I started dumpster diving for set pieces after plays, and I would make my art.”

Omar’s project, called Golden Nuggets, aims to let kids try their hand at “turning something that would have been discarded into art,” he says. He’s partnered with an after school program where students, grades six to nine, can take his class.

Omar likes “helping [his students] understand that you can create art on the cheaper level if you want to use cheaper materials or discarded materials […] it’s eco-friendly,” he says.

On March 16th, the kids taking his class even got to showcase their art at a gallery, and sell it too. “We sold almost if not all of it,” says Omar.

“You might not become a millionaire and be the biggest artist in the world ever, but you can live a comfortable life, you know, using your creativity and you’re going to be fulfilled in that.”

For Omar, art is therapeutic. “It’s just an escape from some of the stresses of life and it’s just something to do when you are stressed out or when you feel like things are kind of getting heavy.”

He hopes his students will also find they can express their emotions through art in a positive way.

Instead of being “super glued into” things like social media and watching TV, Omar says “you may naturally find a healing process in putting energy into something a little more creative.”

“You might even find that you’re good at something.”

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