On Feb. 28, around 30 second-grade students sat at tables coloring masks with red, when instructor Osei Badu asked them what that color represents on the Pan-African flag. 

“Blood!” responded one of the students.

“Good job,” Badu said. “Give him a hand. When we go over green, start thinking about what the green represents.”

This was the second Paint & Punch event held at East Garfield Park’s 345 Art Gallery, 345 N. Kedzie Ave. Corry Williams, a police officer and art collector, has made it his mission to get local young people interested in art. With Paint & Punch, students from public schools all over Chicago can make art and learn about their culture. 

“In order to get students more engaged in the expression of art, we wanted to do something that would get students out of the classroom for a while and into the gallery, which isn’t always accessible to them,” said Charmaine Gardner, the gallery’s events manager. 

Keshanna Milsap, a second-grade teacher at Andrew Carnegie Elementary School on the South Side, said that she found out about 345 Art Gallery online. 

“I’ve been looking to have my students do a paint and punch activity and I thought it would be nice for students to go somewhere local, somewhere that’s in the community,” she said. “We’re excited for a South Side school to reach out to us and come out on a journey to the side of the city they’ve never been to before and have this experience.” 

Williams said that she has also been talking with several nearby West Side schools, including Polaris Charter Academy and Faraday Elementary, which are both located a few blocks from the gallery. 

During the Feb. 28 Paint & Punch, many students were inspired by the red, green and black colors of the Pan-African flag. They were also inspired by local police and firefighters. 

“We are just here to show support for the community,” said Lt. Dominic Wizgird, a local firefighter. “Williams is doing such a great job.” 

Toward the end of the event, each student received a Chicago Police Department backpack, which contained a CPD-branded teddy bear, water bottle and a set of headphones. 

 “As you can see, students are engaged, being creative and making masks to contribute to the Black History Month,” said Milsap. 

Kai Roberson, one of those students, said that she appreciated witnessing adults do so much to help her and her classmates celebrate Black History Month. 

“I think it was fun, because I had the opportunity to have fun with my classmates and make this art,” she said.

CONTACT: igorst3@hotmail.com 

Igor Studenkov is a winner of multiple Illinois Press Association awards for local government and business reporting. He has been contributing to Austin Weekly News since 2015. His work has also appeared...