I was called to an African-American youth education strategy meeting on the South Side last week.
The meeting was held at 35th and King Drive. Upon leaving the building I noticed a 20- to 30-foot statue of what seemed to be a man with African American features (remember art is in the eye of the beholder) riding a horse into battle. It was a very thought- provoking image. As I began to pull off, I noticed that the bus stop benches where not like any that I have seen on the West Side.
The park benches where very artistic and soothing to the eye. I began to drive southbound on my way back to the West Side. When I got to the light at around 28th and Dr. King Drive, I noticed a very ornate fence painted bright red. It seemed to have silhouettes of people dancing and playing musical instruments. Maybe they were walking. At any rate, the fence had my attention. The light changed and I began to drive down 26th Street.
After a few blocks I passed under a viaduct and I arrived in Chinatown. Every building seemed to tell a story of the rich Chinese culture. Every building sign was in the Chinese language. It was interesting to see a KFC restaurant sign in Chinese. There were many people walking around and they seemed to be of many different ethnicities, enjoying Chinatown and no doubt adding dollars to the businesses in and around the area. As I left to continue my journey home, I spotted a huge war memorial to the fallen Asian soldiers.
As I drove, I wondered whether there were many Asian-Americans who fought for America. I would not have even thought about it, had I not seen the memorial to their soldiers. I leaned back and began to listen to my radio and concentrate on the road ahead. I drove down 26th Street and then turned onto Ashland. There was Benito Juarez High School with many standing monuments to great Spanish men of the past. I continued driving. Everywhere I looked, there were murals with the most beautiful colors depicting fathers teaching their sons; a mother teaching her daughter how to cook or prepare nourishments for their family.
I saw murals of grandfathers walking with grandmothers and other elements of Spanish life. I continued down Ashland to Madison and drove for miles through the Lawndale community. I then traveled through East and West Garfield and finally arrived home in Austin, and I did not see one damn thing that would make you think about anything but locking your doors and not making eye contact with anyone.
There was not one artistic bus stop bench, nor a war memorial to fallen African- Americans. Dr. King lived briefly on the West Side, but there is no street sign, plaque or anything that would tell you how important the West Side was to the civil rights movement.
Art has a way of identifying an area and its residents. Art gives you a chance to showcase community pride to all who enter your community. I will continue to push for Chicago Avenue as the Austin community’s black business district. When people travel through, they can see the pride of black people and our contribution to American. I remember a speaker telling us that young black boys and girls “can not be what they can not see.
So, should I take from my trip that since there are no positive images for our children to see, then there is nothing positive for them to strive to be?