As a professional artist and art activist I have had the great privilege of working with children in Milwaukee-area schools.  I have never seen my role solely working with youth to complete an art project—I think about the expectations of what I can bring and the impact that can have long-term results.  It’s no coincidence; most of the schools I’ve worked in have been in the inner-city.  But, I’m ok with that.  It’s important for our youth to see a face that looks like theirs; a positive mentor and role model encouraging them to have goals and complete them.

In a recent artist residency I was given the freedom to choose the art project that the students would work on.  Because of where the school was located I immediately knew what I wanted to do.  They would create two murals.  The day I met the 3rd and 4th graders I asked two questions.  First, “What are the things you like about your neighborhood?”  Answers included family gatherings, being with friends, community working together, neighborhood cleanups, and playing.  Great!  This is the first mural.  Secondly, “What are some of the things you dislike about your neighborhood?” (pause) Drive-by’s, shootings, crime…one child said, “My cousin got shot while we were walking down the street together.”  A little girl said, “They shot my dog!”  “The Po-Po are killing black people!”  (DEEP BREATH) Ok, this is would be the second mural.

In the midst of the activities a burning question I wrestled with was, “What impact will the violent acts against black youth have on their future outlook and how does this shape the way they live in the present?”  There are a lot of youth are suffering from PTSD and other emotional issues—and, unfortunately the resulting failure to process and cope with what’s going on around them perpetuates further violence.  After the two lists were completed I asked them to draw pictures of both good and bad neighborhoods because I wanted to capture their ideas and feelings.  If you saw the drawings, you would laugh and cry at the same time.  Pictures of good neighborhood vibes showed cookouts, neighbors in the yard, block cleanups, baseball games.  Pictures of what they didn’t like showed people getting robbed, beat up, shot, pictures of guns—all from 8- and 9-year olds.  Now it’s bad enough having to grow up in this environment BUT what’s a thousand times worse is seeing the barrage of police murders and violence against blacks. What protection is available when those in authority who should be our protectors are free to kill black people at-will?

Focusing on the things they liked in their neighborhood helped reaffirm that youth of color do have dreams, aspirations, expectations, and future outlook.  At the same time, I was careful to not dismiss the reality of the adverse experiences they often face.  Because of this project, these youth were given the freedom to openly express their thoughts and emotions through dialog, writing, and making art.  I believe this opportunity may not have been afforded them if they had not collaborated with an artist-in-residence; one who believes in investing in and building community toward change.  This kind of change serves to erase the negative perceptions and apathy shown toward our black youth.  This is how their future will be realized today.

Borchart Field Neighborhood 9th Burleigh_2


14 thoughts on “Home

  1. I saw the 30 Americans show today. Excellent! I think the local artists should have been in the main gallery. This is an exceptional show. I liked your portrait by Mutope. And your work shone as usual. I’ll be taking a group from GAC to see it in August for the first Thrusday.


    • Thanks for the kudos Colleen!  Im hearing very positive comments from everyone who’s gone so far! my heart and mind have really been blessed and touched by the myriad of expressions of so many issues that we can all relate to. It is truly a powerful exhibit. OH Yes Mutope’s artwork is the bomb–you should check out the blog to see the story behind it.


    • Thanks grace for your comment. 30 Americans will be exhibiting through September 8th. This exhibit was the springboard for my blog which I had been wanting to start for some time. Afterwards I will be documenting my continuing art adventures, interests, poetry, etc.


  2. I believe this is some of your most in-depth and poignant work. Our future depends on the subjects in this series. Hindsight being 20/20, we must ask ourselves, what are we teaching our children?, by our speech, by our actions, by what we share. Not knowing, not able to know when we don’t know, not knowing to share our good talents, history, and family secrets are devastating to our children. Your art starts ups the conversation regarding – what about the children? Carry on! This is a constant ‘breaking news’ event.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s