As protests for George Floyd erupted in his Minneapolis neighborhood, Public Allies alum Dan Méndez Moore found familiarity in the unrest.
Almost twenty years earlier, in April 2001, Dan’s hometown of Cincinnati was engulfed by similar protests after the police killing of 19-year-old Timothy Thomas. With 15 young Black men having died in police custody in the six years prior, Cincinnati residents had enough. Ongoing demonstrations lasted nine months and drew several thousands of people into the streets, making it the largest demonstration against police brutality since the LA riots a decade earlier.
Then and now, Dan plays his part with illustration. His recently re-released graphic novel, Six Days In Cincinnati: A Graphic Account of the Riots That Shook the Nation a Decade Before Black Lives Matter, is told entirely from the perspective of community members. Aside from being a vital record of Cincinnati history, the book’s lessons have never been more relevant.
Born and raised in Cincinnati, Dan found political activism in high school and spent much of his free time volunteering in the under-resourced Over-the-Rhine neighborhood, where Thomas was slain. Joining community members in protests the next day, Dan recalls passionate conversations about race and justice taking place during demonstrations, a sort of “street education” that helped shape the person he is today.
After leaving home for college, Dan returned in 2007 to volunteer with the Cincinnati Interfaith Worker Center, which empowers low-wage and immigrant workers with the tools they need to transform their workplaces and communities. A year later, Dan was hired to work there full-time in conjunction with the Public Allies apprenticeship program.
No stranger to service, Dan appreciated how Public Allies centered the wisdom and leadership of those most directly impacted by community issues. He was thrilled to meet young people from all corners of the city, learning from their experiences of racial inequity and taking their lead in the work for justice. “Public Allies wasn’t about white saviorism,” Dan says. “We were committed to solving the problems in our backyard, in tandem with the people who were living there.”
As for his artistic inclination, that started as a kid. Dan recalls class periods spent doodling instead of studying, developing a skill that ultimately culminated in his graphic novel. Since its publication, Dan has continued using art as activism through his Instagram account, Comics Against the 1%, where he breaks down complex global issues into digestible, punchy posts.
Although challenged with raising a newborn amidst a pandemic and the justified uprising happening outside his window, Dan finds inspiration in art. Walking down his block, he admires colorful murals and social justice messages painted on the plywood covering broken windows: “It adds hope and beauty to the otherwise bleak visual landscape, in a moment in our history that is particularly bleak.” Dan wouldn’t say it, but that’s exactly what his artwork does, too.