NORTH LAWNDALE — There’s a new mural in Douglas Park, but unlike the typical kind spray-painted on a brick wall, the Word Play Way mural stretches along nearly 150 feet of pavement in Douglas Park at the corner of California and Ogden.
The interactive art piece was created from a collaboration between the David L. Hoyt Education Foundation and the Chicago Poetry Center. With over 1,500 letters stenciled onto the ground, it combines the poetry of Lawndale resident Aniyah Orr Howard with a word search puzzle, not unlike the kind found in the Sunday paper — only much, much bigger.
“It’s really promoting the power of words, and it also is promoting the power of poetry. And how when you combine, words together, that they can really impact someone or a group of people,” said Claire Haasl, executive director of the David L. Hoyt Education Foundation.
Haasl and her husband, David L. Hoyt, the most syndicated puzzle-maker in America, created the David L. Hoyt Education Foundation to support play-based collaborative learning. The Word Play Way project combines Hoyt’s love for wordplay with Haasl’s passion for public art.
Along the pathway around the Children’s Playground in Douglas Park, a sea of jumbled letters hides hundreds of words for young people to find in a classic, albeit oversized, word search game. Highlighted in different colors for readability are also the words to a poem, entitled “Douglas Park,” one of nearly 15 poems submitted for consideration to be used in the project.
Howard, who wrote the poem specifically for the installation, said she was surprised to learn she would be featured in the mural, but is excited for a positive message to be so prominently displayed in the neighborhood.
“I wanted to shine light on how amazing the people are, and the youth, and how there is so much potential in that area,” she said.
The poem was selected by a panel including representatives from Douglas Park, the Chicago Poetry Center and Haasl.
Haasl said she supported the poem because its uplifting theme could have a positive influence on children playing in the park.
“It has a positive message of growth and power. And the language is very playful, but it’s also extremely readable to any level of education,” she said. “So I think that you could read it to a kindergartener, and they would understand the message of it just as much as you could work with a high school student and really dig into the imagery and the mechanics of the poem.”
Howard has deep roots on in Lawndale and had been writing poetry since the age of five. When the opportunity presented itself to be a part of an interactive mural that could help shape the minds of kids in the neighborhood, she channeled her own experiences of growing up in a community that for her was full of love and inspiration.
“I wanted to really tap into how creative kids become just from going to the park, and how big their imaginations can be,” she said. “There’s nothing that they can’t be, nothing that they can’t do.”
The format of the poem — broken into pieces and scattered along the path in Douglas Park — is a clever way to catch the eyes of people who otherwise might not be inclined to read poetry, Howard said.
She wants the mural to draw people into the poem, encourage them to walk the path that Word Play Way follows, and also shed some light on the often overlooked beauty of the West Side.
“I hope that it encourages them and inspires them to be better and do better, and push themselves past the limitations that are around them. I hope that’s what the poem does when people read it — even adults,” she said.
Word Play Way can be found at the Children’s Playground in Douglas Park at the corner of Ogden and California avenues. The David L. Hoyt Education Foundation will be hosting a walking tour of the mural on from 1-4 p.m. July 27 featuring live readings from local poets including Howard.
Aniyah Orr Howard’s “Douglas Park”:
The sun kisses the ground
As shadows of footsteps race to the land of adventure
As young minds swing back and forth
With eyes on a higher destination
The sky has no limit
And young bodies hold the courage to sprout wings
Hope creates the imagination
And imagination births dreams
For the playground
Is the stomping ground of doubt
And the stage of opportunity and freedom
As young soles stand on rocks
That are mountains and declare their greatness.
Pascal Sabino is a Report for America corps member covering Austin, North Lawndale and Garfield Park for Block Club Chicago.
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