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.

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