Soon after returning from South Sudan in 2019 to begin our initiative on BULLETS TO BOOKS, we met Stephanie Mercedes, (who goes by the name Mercedes) at a panel discussion in Washington, DC focused on gun violence. The panel included Chic Dambach, John McKenna of Operation Respect, a student from Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, and Mercedes. Their discussion was relevant to our Project's efforts as they talked about the issues of gun violence in America. They screened a short film about the extraordinary responses from students in Parkland, Florida in their effort to heal since terror struck them only a year before in 2018: one man struck down 32 people with his semi-automatic gun. Of those he hit, half died and half survived. The student from Parkland who participated on the panel performed a song for us. She showed us the power of music as an agent in her process of healing.
"Bullet Melting Ceremony in DC". Photo credit: Christopher Chen
Mercedes talked about her artwork, specifically her process in transforming tools of violence into beautiful works of art and leading workshops in communities and with families to help ease their pain of trauma experienced from gun violence. She shared with us a sculpture she was commissioned to make for the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School. She made this book from melted bullets, similar to the one shown below. This panel discussion was an important moment. We were meant to meet Mercedes.
"Bullets to Books (I)". Photo credit: Stephanie Mercedes. Installed at the Charnice Milton Community Bookstore
Since that day, Mercedes is a part of our life in DC. She is our friend and a part of our team on The Jüdische Kulturbund Project. She is an active participant in the BULLETS TO BOOKS initiative, determined to promote Jok's mission to change the minds from bullets to books and construct sustainable buildings for the hundreds of students to learn at his Promised Land Secondary School.
Early in 2020, fascinated by Mercedes passion and determination to transform violent energy into objects of peace and beauty, we filmed an interview and followed her process in melting bullets and making artwork. We produced a short film from this effort, which was also made in memory of Jay Prensky. We welcome you to view the film (below) and hope it serves others in their effort to heal from trauma.
While continuing her efforts to transform violence into peaceful energy, in the summer of 2020, she started a three-year art fellowship at the University of Maryland in College Park. Like most educators during this time of the COVID-19 pandemic, Mercedes teaches students via Zoom. And when not teaching, she is working in the university's studio, creating commissioned works, or leading workshops in the community. You can learn about Mercedes and her work by visiting her Web site.