The fellowship granted to me by the STEP program allowed me to follow my dream of painting my own mural. My desire was to go into a community plagued with high crime rates, violence, and poverty, and paint a message of hope. The Greater Linden area here in Columbus, OH has a reputation of being one of Columbus’ worst communities because of all that I listed above. One drive through the neighborhood will give you an idea of its condition, and talking with the residence confirms your thoughts, as well as gives you greater insight. After attending community meetings, talking with local residents and leaders in Linden, I decided that a mural challenging those in the community to “dream again” was most fitting. I had conversations with individuals to see what were some things that they once dreamed of accomplishing, but just let fall to the wayside, then I painted those dreams on the wall.
Every aspect of this project was so enriching, rewarding, and transformational. Over the course of completing this project, I gained leadership skills, confidence in my ability to interact with people/build relationships, and in my ability to turn my dreams into my reality. Allow me to hone in on some of what I believe to be lifelong relationships I’ve formed with individuals while working on this mural. Donte Woods-Spikes is one of the main people I’m so thankful for having been able to connect with. Donte is a social justice activists, mentor, and just all around world changer here in Columbus. I met him while visiting Master Artist, Richard Duarte Brown, at Transit Arts one day. I went to show Duarte sketches of the mural, and get some advice from him about how to approach the project, and he decided to introduce me to Donte. Donte was so impressed with my vision that he offered to document the process via video. He came to the mural site, recorded me working, recorded my conversations with people on the street, and even helped me paint a little. He also used his influence to inform reputable people in the city about my project. Being around him motivated me to take seriously the mandate on every human being to be a solutionist, and to make it my business to reach out to people who are oppressed, overlooked, and who simply just need a friend. This was a mutual thing. He’s expressed many times how inspirational my project has been to him, and even how my mural redeemed the corner of Cleveland and 18th Ave for him. That corner has gone from being a memorial stone of one of his worst life experiences, to now a memorial stone of all that he aspires to accomplish being transformed into a painting on a building. Platforms have also been opened up for him as a result of our friendship. To this day, when I think up a new way to make an impact in my community, he is one of the first people I think of. His friendship, and just watching him in action has caused me to Dream Again in so many ways, and I am forever grateful for that. To express my gratitude, as well as honor the work he does in the community, Donte was given a space on the mural (shaking hands with the officer).
Kanye Hawkins is a second person I need to pay homage to. Kanye is a 13 year old boy who lives one street over from where I painted the mural. The first day that I started working on the mural, Kanye came around asking about it and with great enthusiasm asked if he could be apart of the project. Everyday from that point, Kanye was on site at the mural from start to finish. He probably actually painted once or twice, but he faithfully came around to mess with my volunteers, drink all the Gatorade’s, use my ashtray change to buy snacks from the corner store and take on the position as DJ while we worked. As the summer progressed, we grew closer and he started running errands with me, coming to the youth events at my church, and coming over my house. I can’t say that I became a mentor to him because most of our conversations together didn’t consist of me giving him advice about life. I would offer my suggestions about things every once in a while, but we mostly just hung out. I can tell that my presence alone was enough to make an impact on him. I know this to be true because one day while working on the mural, he stated that he and his friend Roman loved coming around so much because they could feel that I cared about them, otherwise I wouldn’t be in that neighborhood. When he said that, I realized the power that lies in presence alone. I’ve always aspired to be a inspirational person for youth, but was unsure of what advice/resources I had to offer them, so I never tried to step up and be an intentional role model/mentor for someone. Befriending Kanye has shown me that what I have to offer is what kids like him need most, which is consistent friendship/presence. What I have developed with Kanye has put form to the type of relationship I desire to form with every child I work with. I don’t need them to see me as an authoritative figure that they need to learn important things from. They can just see me as a trustworthy older sister who’s love and consistency has empowered them and shown them just how much they matter.
Since childhood, I knew that I wanted to be involved in the community, working with youth, empowering and engaging them through the arts. Working on this mural gave me exposure to those very things, and showed me that 1). This is the type of work I hope to spend my life doing, 2). I am capable of actually doing it, and 3). I also have much more learning and developing to do. Due to my introverted tendencies, I struggled with believing that I could make the impact I desire to make in the lives of people and the communities they live in. I couldn’t really envision myself being able to attend community meetings, network with pastors and community leaders, and build relationships with complete strangers over short periods of time. I also couldn’t envision myself planning, organizing, and managing a project as large as this mural. Now I know that I am fully capable of doing those things, and turns out I’m not as introverted as I think I am. I’d be lying if I say that I handled all things perfectly, but I did handle all things as best as I knew how. This project also showed me the many areas in which I need to grow, which is also apart of the transformational experience. Seeing what I was capable of doing gave me the motivation I need to further develop in other areas, so that I can be as effective as I aim to be in my career path.
Altogether, this project showed me where I am on the spectrum of being a quality leader, and a person who is integral, consistent, and committed. As I mentioned before, I didn’t excel in all areas, but I surprised myself with what qualities I do have, and that gave me the motivation I need to work on developing my character even more. As a result, I am already making plans to finish the mural entirely in Spring, and take on my next big project in fall, which is my very own art exhibit.
Thank you to those on the STEP team for allowing me to discover my potential, and receive the motivation I need to maximize it.