Thursday, November 7, 2013

Summer Reflections: Brownsville Justice Community Program and Groundswell

“Intersections Humanized”

     This summer the Brownsville Community Justice Center partnered with Groundswell's Summer Leadership Institute, the New York City Department of Transportation, and the Pitkin Avenue BID to create "Intersections Humanized,” a fifty five foot mural capturing the spirit of the resilient Brownsville community.

Brownsville Justice Community Program participants lift their certificates underneath the piercing gaze of the mural.

     Ten of Brownsville’s young self-starters dedicated eight weeks of their summer to help bring revitalization and a “shared streets” ethos to Pitkin Avenue.  The majority of participants are part of a program at the Center called Justice Community, which works with sixty neighborhood youth annually. These young enthusiasts participate in service projects, internships, and educational and career development workshops to help them build a stronger future for themselves, their families and their community.

Photo courtesy of Groundswell’s blog “On The Wall”

     For the first two weeks of the project, the participants brainstormed at Public School 156.  During this initial think tank, Brownsville’s future, assets, and landmarks were highlighted as important components needing representation in the mural.

Photo courtesy of Groundswell’s blog “On The Wall”

     During the third week, the participants attended scaffolding training which culminated in an OSHA certification, opening potential employment opportunities in construction and maintenance.  Then the participants spent several weeks working together as a group to accomplish the installation of the mural.

(Steven snapping a picture of his name to document his efforts)

     Taking pride in their work and community, many of the participants took photos and brought family members to the Livable Streets Pitkin Avenue Mural Dedication event, a community wide reveal showcasing the completed piece.

(Abdul, known as “Buddha,” taking pride in his contribution)

     Some participants expressed feeling a heightened sense of fulfillment while developing, showcasing, and living with such a monumental and meaningful piece of art in their neighborhood.  Other members noted their appreciation for the ability to say, “I did that!” to their peers when passing the mural during their commute.  

(Sean creatively pointing out his name and signaling the peaceful message the mural promotes)

     At the reveal, participants recounted returning home with paint all over their clothes after a hard day of work in the summer sun, and how the unified work ethic at the mural site reinforced many of the attributes woven into the roots of the symbolic tree central to the mural.  When asked about the mural’s impact on Brownsville, Sean (pictured above) stated, “Rome was not built in a day,” alluding to his expectations for Brownsville’s development.

Dashawn (left) and his brother Steven (right)

     Dashawn (pictured above left) reflected, “It was a life changing experience.  It was something different and new.  There was so much positive energy knowing everybody came together to do something nice in Brownsville.”

“NuNu” (left) and Messiah (Right)

     Nakira (“NuNu” to her friends) and Messiah (pictured above) allowed the excitement to motivate them to continue pursuing community benefit projects as well as their own personal goals.  “It was a cool experience and something new.  It was a learning experience.  I wish I could do more like it.  It was the first thing I did in the community where I could show people something I did,” explained Nunu as she reflected on her experience.  “I would definitely recommend this program to members of the community,” Messiah added.  NuNu and Messiah have since enrolled in the SUNY Brooklyn Educational Opportunity Center where they will continue their pursuit of higher education and entrepreneurship.  

     The completion of “Intersections Humanized” holds special meaning for Brownsville as it coincides with the announcement of a major grant from the National Endowment of the Arts awarded to Groundswell and the NYC Department of Probation.  This grant will usher in the “Transform/Restore: Brownsville” mural project, which is designed to engage local businesses, community members, and youth via a series of murals along Brownsville’s Pitkin Avenue.

     Aside from the concrete skills attained and new accomplishments bolstering their resumes, many of the participants displayed newfound motivation to apply the energy and momentum they developed from the experience to further pursue their own personal goals.  In addition to Nunu and Messiah’s recent successes, Dashawn recently enrolled in a GED program.  Sean is currently participating in the Justice Center’s new Learning Lab initiative, and other participants have gone to complete a home health aide training program and start employment, CDL training, and continued job search and work readiness programming at the Justice Center and elsewhere. 

     Thank you and congratulations to Groundswell, the New York City Department of Transportation, the Pitkin Avenue BID, the Brownsville Community Justice Center, the NYC Department of Probation, the Center for Economic Opportunity, the Mayor's Young Men's Initiative, the greater Brownsville community, Metro (check out their coverage here), and all of the participants who helped make this mural a great success!

Friday, November 1, 2013

Interview with Dashawn Hayes about his summer working on a Groundswell mural in Brownsville

My name is Yasmine Mohamed and I am a CUNY Service Corps member working at the Brownsville Community Justice Center. I had the pleasure of interviewing Dashawn Hayes, a recent graduate of the Justice Community program, about his summer internship with the Groundswell Mural Project which resulted in a new mural on Strauss and Pitkin Avenue in Brownsville. The mural was a collaboration between Groundswell, the Justice Center, the NYC Department of Transportation and the Pitkin Avenue BID. Dashawn spoke to me about the impact he hopes the mural will have on Brownsville as well as the impact the whole experience had on him.
Dashawn Hayes, Justice Community alum and Groundswell muralist
Q. Coming to the Brownville Community Justice Center, did you know that you were going to be a part of such a big project? 
A. No, I didn’t know that I was going to be a part of a mural. Ben (Smith) got me into it. In orientation I found out that I was going to paint a mural and I learned about their significance and became very interested in it. I knew wanted to stay and be a part of it. 

Q. What was your role in this project? 
A. My main role was to just participate. I helped anyone who needed help. I did a little bit of everything like cleaning brushes, moving equipment and just helping everyone. The first couple weeks of this project was all brainstorming for the mural. I did not actually believe at the time that it was going to become an actual mural. We were just giving our ideas for what it can be and what we would like it to look like and represent. 

Q. What does the mural signify? What was the idea behind it? 
A. The arrows represent street lanes. We interviewed people on the street and talked to them about what they thought a problem in Brownsville was and we talked to DOT and everyone agreed that there is an issue with the intersections and space. We felt like we needed more room for traffic regulations. Many accidents would happen because there is no space. So the arrows show more space for like bus lanes, bicycle lanes and more street space. The red buildings show public housing. We wanted this to show unity. We wanted to show that we care about them too. That we are all a community. When people think of Brownsville a lot of them think of public housing and we just wanted to show that we are in this together. Each picture in the middle is its own box, its own image of Brownsville. The faces of everyone that worked on it are in these boxes. It shows that we worked on it together and that we need to stay together to make Brownsville better. 

Q. What does the whole tree represent? 
A. The tree is like a family tree. It is all about unity. We need to better Brownsville together and we just want everyone to know that no one is left out.

The team that worked on the Groundswell Mural

Q. What was your experience like? 
A. It was life changing, in a good way. If I had the chance to do it again I would. A part of my experience was community painting day. We had people from the community come and help plaint and draw like simple lines on the mural. Me and the team promoted with flyers. Some people didn’t even stop to talk to us or to look at the flyer and I think that’s one of the problems in Brownsville. But a fair amount of people stopped and listened to what we had to say and a fair amount of people came and saw what we were doing and saw what we wanted to accomplish and helped out. Once the mural was completed and reveled that’s when people actually appreciated what we were doing and saw what the meaning of it was. 

Q. How did you like working with the team? 
A. I love my team that I worked with. You know some of the people didn’t want to be bothered and would just do their part but during the experience, my team became my family. We were in it together. We know that we each need someone else to make it possible. I loved working with my family. 

Q. I see that your face is in the center. Why do you believe that you were in the center? 
A. The main artist Chris (Soria) told me that I was his inspiration. I’m not a painter or anything, I’m mostly into music and Chris was inspired by my music and my effort that I put into the whole project. 

Q. How did you feel when you saw the mural finished? 
A. I felt really accomplished. It’s something that I know will always be there. I can show my daughter and my nephew later on and tell them that I did that, that’s my face in the middle. I consider it like a reward for all the hard work and dedication that I put in. 

Groundswell Mural on Strauss and Pitkin Ave.

Q. Do you believe murals will help better the community? 
A. Murals are not enough to better the community. We need to actually touch these people. We can touch them through events if they are hosted in schools or street fairs or any community places. Opportunities like that will allow me to actually talk to people. They need to find out about what we are trying to do and what needs to be changed before change can actually happen. When it comes to my friends I feel like I am their role model because they see that I’m actually dedicated. Some of my friends still do their thing and don’t make changes but some of them see what I am trying to do and they get motivated themselves. This is like the community, they have to see us dedicated and trying to bring change and then hopefully they will want to do the same thing. 

Q. Is there anything else that you would like to add? 
A. Well, I’m glad I’m the center of attention (laughing). I feel like I strived and I have been through a lot to get there and I feel like the artists Chris and Don saw that and I would really like to acknowledge them for that.