As part of the Art for Justice project, we have included local openers representing organizations in Tucson and Southern Arizona that are working to address issues around mass incarceration. We are proud to continue including these local organizations in a digital format. Our next Art for Justice reading is on Thursday, April 22 at 5 PM with poets Nicole Sealey, John Murillo and Hanif Abdurraqib. Click here to learn more.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
About Sonoran Prevention Works:
Flowers & Bullets started in early 2012 with two childhood friends, Tito Romero and Jacob Robles, Latinx and Indigenous men who have lived all their lives in Barrio Centro. They recognized the need to make their community in Tucson become a sustainable and healthy neighborhood due to the effects of systemic economic and environmental racism in the area. Through organizing collectively to make street art and t-shirts they began to create opportunities for their peers to have alternatives. Another key founder, Dora Martinez, is an Indigenous and Latinx woman who joined the organization a year later to help establish the gardening component and get more people involved to bring healthy grassroots solutions to Barrio Centro.
The Flowers & Bullets mission is to reclaim cultural roots and amplify them through sustainability, art, and rebellion to heal and empower our neighborhood.
About Co-Founder Tito Romero:
Tito Romero is the Co-Founder and Outreach Coordinator for Flowers & Bullets Collective. He was born in Tucson and is a lifelong resident of Barrio Centro. As a community organizer, Tito and Flowers & Bullets have been instrumental in using food and art as tools to address intersectionalities around issues like mass incarceration, food insecurity, and affordable housing. By using the land and place-based connecctions, we’re here to redefine what public safety really means.
Poetry Center: In poetry, we often look at juxtapositions in language. Can you talk about the name of your organization a little bit? Why Flowers & Bullets?
Tito Romero: Yes. To us our name reflects the contrasts between our lived experiences, where we live, and the opportunities that exist hidden within our communities. So, to us, flowers is the art, and bullets is the struggle. [It represents] the idea that we're able to overcome the challenges we face in our communities by organizing.
PC: What are some of the initiatives you’re focused on right now?
TR: Like many other collectives and organizations, we've also been heavily affected by this pandemic. In a year that we hoped to have a summer camp for kids and youth, we had to redirect that energy into developing the farm into a really inviting community space. So, this year we are focused on the farm. Focused on plant sales, community veggie bags, planting trees, using our social media more strategically, and creating community service opportunities for those who have been/are system-involved.
PC: How has your work changed in the midst of the pandemic?
TR: We've always said that one thing about our collective is our ability to bring people together for events, celebrations, general meetings, and workshops. Almost everything we did revolved around bringing [people] together. So instead of in-person workshops we've shifted to online [workshops]. Since so much of our focus is currently at the farm, we run quick "how to" videos on our social media platforms and updates about the progress we're making. It's also been a challenging time for our members. Most of our members are 100% volunteers, and have been for almost 9 years, so it's difficult to ask them to dedicate more time to organizing when they've also been affected [by the pandemic].
PC: What are some of the greatest needs you see in southern Arizona around art & sustainability? What about the greatest opportunities?
TR: Resources and accessibility. First and foremost, we need to redirect where resources are going and allocate those funds to get our people paid and create jobs. In recent years we've spent a lot of energy in redirecting resources or information about resources to our community for free. The biggest misconception is that programs just have to simply exist and [then the]people that need them the most will take advantage of them. We must allocate the proper resources and get the people paid who are out door-knocking, those out there organizing, and those doing the work to make sure that the programs that do exist fall into the hands of people that need them the most. There are so many opportunities in connecting people who have strong ties to their neighborhood with the proper resources to address issues from food security, public safety, and art programs for youth and kids.
PC: The Art for Justice project aims to put a spotlight on mass incarceration, particularly mass incarceration of people of color, through language. Can you talk about how language is important in your work?
TR: Being an art and sustainability collective, we've had to be really careful about not recreating a big problem that you find when working on developing green spaces or community spaces. Green-spaces, farmers markets, and organic farms have now had a big reputation for being really inviting for primarily white or wealthier people. Creating a solid mission statement and having strong written values helps us not only stay focused, but it also helps us stay committed to the people that Flowers & Bullets was intended for. Language, laws, and accessibility to resources have long been used to prosecute minorities and people of color but our number one goal is to create a space specifically for those that don't feel welcomed anywhere else. That feel judged and prosecuted even beyond being system-involved, for being undocumented, trans, or gender non-confirming. [We want] to offer someone the opportunity of being seen, heard, respected, an investment, and experts of their lived experience and community.
PC: Folks often learn about organizations like yours and want to get involved. How can people best support your work?
TR: Unlike much bigger non-profits with much bigger budgets, Flowers & Bullets doesn't have the luxury to get up and go if one day our funding is up. We live here, we don't have that choice. Donations are extremely crucial to keep our programs alive and running. (Donate here.) Volunteering is also available for those that have extra time, but we are limited because of COVID precautions. The smallest but also one of the most impactful ways to support is to buy our merchandise, follow our social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram), and share our organization with family and friends.