Students at Lewis School of Excellence have spent the past several weeks working on a series of murals titled “We Believe.”
The paintings, unveiled at an event Friday, send a message of equality, students said.
Last week’s event was done in partnership with Lewis School of Excellence, GAP Community Center, Grace and Peace Church, and Chicago Police Department’s 25th District and supported by Let’s Link Chi, a program between the mayor’s office and the Partnership for Safe and Peaceful Communities.
“The message is that everyone should be treated equal, no matter what. No matter what skin tone you are, no matter who you like … no discrimination,” said Jamie Briggs, 13, who worked on the “Love is Love” panel.
The school believes “part of education is giving students space to not only use their voice, but to act on the beliefs and the values that they have,” teacher Alycia Vang said.
Another teacher, Eileen Whited, said they have been focusing on Black history and Black excellence over the past year. Most recently, they’ve been focusing on “children as change makers,” she said.
The teachers wanted their students to realize being a change maker doesn’t only happen at the big level of speeches and protests, Whited said. It can also look like Friday’s event, “where you’re in a community and making something together, like murals.”
Students spent about three weeks in an online mural club developing the project’s theme, designing panels and establishing what they wanted their art to communicate to the community, Vang said.
The weekend before the unveiling, parents, teachers, families and members of the community came together to paint the student’s designs, she said.
“That, to me, was almost more powerful than this because we were coming together to create the mural panels,” Vang said at Friday’s event.
Camila Genis, 13, was the director for the “Black Lives Matter” panel. She said she feels proud of her work on the mural because “I’m representing my school. And everybody else here that did everything is really representing our school.”
Walter Jeffers, 13, who worked on designing the “We All Belong” panel, said the mural represents his school’s diverse beliefs and students.
He hopes it sends the message: “That no matter who you are, what skin tone you are, that you all belong, we all belong. And that especially in these times with like, gun violence, especially with police, that we should all have justice.”
Friday was a dual unveiling. After the event at Lewis School, attendees marched about five blocks to the Revive Center at 1856 N. Leclaire Ave.
There, the GAP Community Center and Grace and Peace Church hosted the unveiling of murals depicting Cesar Chavez, Martin Luther King Jr. and Mother Teresa, painted by local artist John Vergara.
Grace and Peace Church Pastor John Zayas said the subjects were chosen because they represent “three major symbols of what we need to really look at as examples of justice, labor and servanthood.”
Vergara said people think those activists, who have long since died, are gone, “but they’re here. They’re embedded here.”
They were “people that didn’t really care what color, what ethnicity, what race, what gender you were. [They would] love you unconditionally.
“Those are ideas that never die. And that was the whole purpose about putting these images on these walls.”
As an artist who’s been painting murals for 25 years, Vergara said he’s excited to see the next generation getting into art.
“It’s really cool to see these kids, their creative side come out. Even kids that don’t know how to draw, don’t know how to paint they come in, they get creative and they learn little things and it just inspires them.”
Zayas said it’s important to give young people opportunities to express themselves and make their voices heard.
When they don’t get those opportunities, “that’s when we get these pockets of eruption, of violence and things like that. So the more we can give them opportunities to speak, I think it’d be a benefit for all of us,” he said.
Vergara said adults need to do more to listen to the youth when they speak up.
“It’s really their turn and this is their generation. We need to listen. And that’s the key, listening.”