In 2017, Sankofa Fine Art Plus received grants to install a new mural in the Glenville neighborhood. We gathered community input to decide on the theme.
Based on the community’s response “Our Lives Matter!” we decided not only to highlight the problems that make this statement relevant, we also tried to do our small part to provide a solution.
We contacted the Cuyahoga County Juvenile Court and the Cleveland Police Department, inviting them to participate in a program that would bring these arguably disparate groups together to design and paint a mural. They both agreed.
The program was designed by Gary Williams — an artist, former prosecutor, and legal educator — and Robin Robinson — an artist, art therapist, and a former special education teacher. Both Robin and Gary are principle team members at Sankofa Fine Art Plus.
The goal for bringing the youth and police officers together on this project was the hope that by working cooperatively, the two sides would be able to move beyond any commonly accepted stereotypes and preconceptions they had about each other.
The program was designed for the youth and the officers to meet every Saturday afternoon for two to three hours for ten to twelve weeks. This was a commitment that both groups were willing to accept.
The first phase involved standard “ice breaking” and “getting to know you” exercises. It took a while for the participants to lower their defenses. But after two to three sessions we were able to slowly transition into the important second phase; concept design.
For the next three weeks we studied slides of other established murals and discussed the theme of the mural we would be working on. The conversations of the youth continuously circled back to their perceived lack of power in their lives. It was soon established that:
“Knowledge is the only true power because no one could ever take it away from you”.
Everyone unanimously agreed on the theme “KNOWLEDGE IS POWER” . The group then voted on the people they felt represented universal wisdom and whom had great power. Maya Angelou, Barak Obama, Martin Luther King Jr., and Tupak Shakur were the four icons that manifested to the inter-generational group and exhibited the qualities that they wanted to demonstrate to their community.