I was born ELANA FELICE STANGER, to Bert and Estelle Stanger in 1970 at Pelham Bay General Hospital in the Bronx, New York City, U.S.A. I wasn’t wearing anything at the time. I became acquainted with my skin, a hue different from and the same as some of the doctors and nurses, although very similar to my parents’ hue. I realized we were all hue-men.
When I was 27 I discovered that my given name, ELANA, if you believe in coincidences, happens to be a perfect acronym for the 5 major race groups in the United States: European, Latino, African, Native, and Asian. Although I have been taught to identify myself as European American, I am all of them, rolled up into one hue-man, and they are me. I represent all of them with my being and with my breath. I love all of them. I stand for all of them, as a fierce ally.
A few years earlier at 25, when I began to make art, I realized that my given last name, STANGER, could receive a period after the “T”, and become ST. ANGER. I had a recent transformation from ST. ANGER to ST. ANGEL as this is what one gets when changing the final letter “R” to an “L” as in “Love”. I realized this name is a perfect match for me, given my desire to transform the ogre of racism and social oppression into a force for unity, healing, and change. In Japanese, the same letter character that represents “crisis” also represents “opportunity”. As “Saint Angel”, I take anger, pain, rage, frustration, and disappointment in the world—emotions that come from living in an oppressed system—and aim to channel them into something beautiful, constructive, and positive. I began to sign my paintings with the name St. Anger and more recently, with changes in myself, I now sign my paintings with the name St. Angel.
Growing up in the Bronx afforded me a wonderful opportunity to get to know people of different cultures—races, ethnicities, nationalities, languages, sexual orientations, belief systems, religions, abilities, experiences—and although I was not raised with a lot of money, I felt privileged in that I was able to grow up in a very culturally heterogeneous community rather than a homogenous one. Being raised without a lot of money also helped my creativity develop and enabled me to learn to value people and relationships more than things.
Even though I had become separated from my friends of color due to environmental circumstances—going to different schools, making new friends with other interests, and the general confusion that seeps into relationships that cross racial lines in a racist culture—I was somehow aware on an unconscious level that I was being given opportunities by this society as a white woman that were not being given with as much ease to my friends of color, the people with whom I grew up and loved most deeply. I was aware of the existence of white privilege—the automatic advantages society awards to white people and from which they benefit while people of color are excluded—all based on skin color. Somehow our society had managed to forget our hue-man-ness.
When it came time for college, I was able to attend a private school for the first time after having attended public schools all of my life. This was because the scholarships and funding being offered by Ithaca College were the equivalent of what any state university would offer me. Ithaca College, in Upstate New York, was a wonderful place for learning, with an excellent student to teacher ratio that enabled a lot of individual attention and great opportunities for rich classroom discussion. What was missing was the diversity. The student population was only 2% people of color—and the school did not even know which colors they were—just lumped them all under the term “nonwhite”. My move to upstate New York and away from the Bronx left me with culture shock. I had never seen so many white people in all my life! Many people think that is a funny thing for a white woman to say, but it was true for me as it was true for other whites that had grown up in racially diverse environments. There was certainly racial tension on the campus, segregation, and confusion—as there is on every college campus in America. I vowed that I would have to do something about this situation before I graduated. This vow inspired the birth of Students for an Interracial Dialogue (SID).
I founded SID as a campus organization to build bridges across racial lines and develop intercultural understanding and relationships. I gained assistance from a number of faculty and from the Office of Minority Student Affairs—I still don’t know why they call people of color “minorities” when the majority of the world’s population is made up of people of color—I think it’s a nasty trick designed to make us think people of color have less power than they do. Nonetheless, I facilitated a series of dialogues, the first of which was attended by 200 people! I had found my true calling as a facilitator of interracial and intercultural communication. I felt totally energized and amazingly clear of mind after fielding questions and channeling the dialogue between 200 people for its two-hour duration.
Shortly after this, I graduated from Ithaca College with a B.A. Degree in Speech Communication and a Concentration in Public Speaking. It was then time to move to New Orleans, Louisiana.
I had been receiving messages from the universe about moving New Orleans throughout my entire senior year of college. In other words, I would meet a stranger who would approach me and immediately begin speaking about New Orleans, or as soon as I would turn on the TV there would be a story about Huey P. Long (one of New Orleans’ previous governors), or an image of a Mardi Gras parade float. It was not a rational decision based on logic—I knew no one there and nothing about the place—but there were countless examples of signs and wonders guiding me alone to this magical place of rich history, food, and culture, with an African American population of 65% in 1993, and 40% of the population living below the national poverty line.
New Orleans, bordered by the Mississippi, was one of the main ports for the “slave trade” early in the history of our country—the selling of people for money to other people who would buy them and own them and make them work hard for them and beat them and rape them and kill them and do whatever they wished to their fellow hue-men, because they considered them property instead of what they were and are: hue-man beings just like themselves. I figured out that, especially given my awareness of my calling, my purpose there would probably revolve around race relations work in that environment. Some people called me a “carpet-bagger”—a “know-it-all northerner” going to “fix” the south. What I learned, however, is that the north needs just as much “fixing” as the south in terms of racism, and we need not point fingers at others but look in the mirror at ourselves.
When I first got to New Orleans, I was hired by ACORN—the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now—as Director of their sister organization, AMFM—Affiliated Media Foundation Movement. I composed grant applications to secure funds to acquire radio and television broadcast stations low-income people could use to organize their communities and fight for their unbelievably overlooked rights.
Eventually, though, I had a vision to open an art gallery. Two mornings in a row, as I was waking from sleep, the image was very vivid. I saw clearly the walls, and the majestic portrait of a woman over the mantle, with a glass vase of long purple irises and green stems sitting upon it. A commercially and residentially zoned space was becoming available in the racially and economically diverse St. Thomas/Irish Channel neighborhood. A jewelry-maker friend found it and asked if I was interested in becoming her roommate. She also considered opening a jewelry shop there. Then she declined from both options. My vision and the place that it would manifest came together.
All sorts of help was provided by the universe and I listened intently to the inner voice guiding me. During my first week, I “heard” that children would be coming in for an art class that was to be held at the Gallery, which incidentally was named, DIVERCITY Intercultural Art Gallery. I had to assume that I would be “teaching” it—I did not consider myself an artist at the time, let alone having taken any art classes—I had not. Sure enough, the next week, scores of students poured into the Gallery from the street on their way home from school. Most of them lived in the St. Thomas public housing community around the corner, made famous by the story of Sister Helen Prejean, in the film, “Dead Man Walking”. The young people were mesmerized by the art on the walls and began shouting questions at me, “Can you do that? I want to learn to do that! Can you teach me how to do that?” Having previously received my “instructions”, though no art instruction, I said, “Sure, come back next Tuesday and we will have art class.”
A number of young people came the following Tuesday and I was prepared. It was true that I did not know where I would get the money for the art supplies, but that did not end up a problem. You see, after the young people came the first day, I immediately called an organizer friend of mine, George Andrews, and we combed Magazine Street together on his lunch break, requesting generous store owners to contribute to the DIVERCITY fund, and not only did we collect $50 for supplies, we also received in-kind donations from National Art Supply at the very top of Magazine Street. That was when I became very good at asking for things from people that I never would have had the courage to do, were I not feeling completely led by my vision. We always got exactly what we needed.
Many wonderful events and classes, gatherings and experiences, ensued. The intention of the art and the Gallery was to bring together humans from diverse cultures to explore, educate, and build awareness of the beauty of diversity as well as the pain of oppression, while building relationships in a supportive environment. DIVERCITY events included:
- Weekly art classes for young people living in St. Thomas Public Housing
- Art openings featuring the work of artists of diverse cultures
- Monthly poetry readings featuring pieces on cultural diversity
- Slide presentations on the 1789 Slave Revolt as well as the Beijing Women’s Conference
- A Jewish/African-American Seder and Tree-Planting Ceremony
- Banner-Making and Marching in the MLK Jr. Holiday Parade
- Writing, Directing, and Performing a Play about Social Oppression and Conflict Resolution at the MLK Holiday Schools Event, for which we received a standing ovation from 700 huemyns
- National Coalition Building Institute (NCBI) Prejudice-Reduction workshops
- Re-Evaluation Counseling community-building workshops
- Community Potluck Dinners
- A “Love Whomever You Want” DIVERCITY Valentine’s Day Party
Due to creepy landlords, the Gallery closed after a year despite my efforts to keep it open. I had not yet learned how to really organize allies to stand with me and fight with me for justice, which is what I have learned more about since that time. I also knew in my heart that there had to come a time when I would attend graduate school, and it made sense for me to do it then before getting further and further into such projects requiring my life commitment. One other thing I was sure of by the end of the Gallery stint, was that I was an artist, and I longed to see how far I could take my own work.
I was accepted to George Mason University’s Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution the following year, to earn an M.S. in Conflict Analysis and Resolution in 1999. This program is considered the best in the country and is well-known internationally. I had a grand learning experience there. However, I again wondered, “How could the country’s preeminent conflict resolution program offer no specialized courses in racism or interracial conflict in the United States?” The ICAR program is very internationally-focused, and I believe we are huemyn all over the world, and we are all in need of help with our conflicts and in need of skilled professionals, but what about the issues here at home? Let’s take care of our own backyard first before we go and mow somebody else’s lawn that somehow looks more glamorous or manageable perhaps.
While at George Mason, I presented my first one-woman art show, “Painting Bridges to Peace” as part of a course I created, which included a research paper on the significance and potential of art in conflict transformation and social change.
Upon my graduation from ICAR, I was invited to work for John Fernandez, one of the country’s top diversity experts, focused on consulting among Fortune 500 organizations. I worked with John for almost two years, in organizations such as The Carrier Corporation, The Thomson Corporation, Lucent Technologies, Parke-Davis, and others. John gave me a fantastic introduction to the world of big business and diversity work in Corporate America, an education that I could only receive by taking part in it.
That is how I came to be in Philadelphia, where I operated DIVERSITY ARTS art studio and my diversity consulting and conflict transformation practice for many years.
Then, it was time to grow again. This time, I would gain new credentials to help me further my work. From 2009 to 2011, I attended Hunter College School of Social Work in New York City, where I earned my M.S.W. I returned to Philadelphia and from 2012 to 2016, I worked as a psychotherapist assisting more than a hundred clients diagnosed with varying mental illnesses at the Northeast Community Center for Behavioral Health. My clients taught me so much including the importance of undoing mental health stigma in our society. In helping these brave individuals, I was also aware of everyone’s collective HUEMANITY. I gained my License in Clinical Social Work, my L.C.S.W., in 2014.
I have continued to help bridge differences among my beloved sisters and brothers. In 2015, I also changed my name as an artist from St. Anger to St. Angel. More recently, I have been working on my writing about diversity and unity, and I hope that you will soon see the fruits of my labor on the shelves of your bookstore and support this work.
I have also created a website where White people may make a formal apology to people of color for their conscious or unconscious racist thoughts, feelings, behaviors, beliefs and attitudes to create change on a personal as well as institutional level. Please see the new website and offer your apology or read the apologies that have already been made at www.OurApologyForRacism.org.
There is an online store at www.cafepress.com/diversityarts where I hope you will discover very useful, beautiful, and thought-provoking T-shirts, posters, mugs, greeting cards and more, all for the purpose of sharing a message of intercultural healing, hope and unity with the world.
Feel free to contact me to let me know how you feel about these issues!
And remember: ALWAYS SHINE YOUR TRUTH! YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL EXACTLY AS YOU ARE!