The young people of the Austin community unveiled their community mural project April 21, called Moving Toward A Brighter Future.
The mural was done underneath the viaduct at the corner of Central and Lake Street. The project was made possible through a grant from After School Matters, a non-profit organization that partners with community-based organizations to expand out-of-school opportunities for Chicago teens.
Twenty-four high school teenagers worked on the project with professional artists. The mural includes such people as Fred Hampton, Sr., Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela.
Artists Rahmaan “Static” Barnes, Max Sansing and Sterling Price served as instructors and mentors to students. Since October of last year, the artists and youth worked to beautify the community with art.
Also working with the young artists in a leadership capacity were Westside Health Authority CEO/President Jacqueline Reed and WHA coordinator Terrayne Ellis.
At the unveiling ceremony, Steve Weaver, regional director for After School Matters said, “I’m always happy when there is a public art piece because it has a way of showing that teens are an asset to this community and something to be valued. I’m always glad when the work gets put somewhere that everyone can see it. I just want to say congratulations, and we had the pleasure of working with a number of groups here in region two.”
Instructor Barnes came up with the title, Movement To A Brighter Future. Barnes said he was inspired after looking at the neighborhood and surrounding community.
“I saw it as a way to actually do something a bit more beautiful under that viaduct; to give people a better inspiration and more pride in their neighborhood,” he said.
Barnes added that there was a social work component in putting the mural together.
“One aspect was teaching them the art, the other aspect was sitting down and talking one-on-one,” he said.
“For the record I am declaring for the West side viaduct that it be dedicated to Fred Hampton,” Barnes added, noting that the city last year refused to name a West Side street after the late Black Panther leader.
Three of the young artists explained what the project meant to them.
“This project made me feel like I can do anything and everything in life,” said Monique Field, 17, and a student at Michele Clark Magnet High School. “I don’t have to settle for what is going on inside this society, like the drug dealing, homelessness and teen pregnancy. I don’t have to be like that. I can be an example for someone younger than me. I can be whatever I want and do what I want, and I can make it my business to move toward a brighter future for myself and the next generation.”
Maurice Dentis, 16 years old and a student at Frederick Douglas High School said he was happy to do the mural, “because the mural that was on there before was messed up and I just wanted to give back to my community.”
Lavontae Press, a 14-year-old Leslie Lewis High School student, said working on the project kept him off the street.
“It really was a good experience because I like to paint and draw. This is what I did for the past two years of my life, and my mother encouraged me to come do the mural. It was great because this is what I like to do.”
At the ceremony, Jacqueline Reed told the students how proud she was of them.
“I think that this is just an example of what you guys can do for our community,” she said. “I know you have more skills and you can do a lot more, but this is the first step that we see what you can do. So you should be proud of it because this represents you, and I look forward to working with you. Hopefully one day when you are my age you will have young people such as yourself to look up to as well.”