AUSTIN — Pedestrians walking along Chicago Avenue will find a new piece of street art that carries a message of hope and resilience for young people on the West Side.
Created with the help of local youth through the One Summer Chicago program, the mural covers the eastern brick wall on the side of GiGi’s QuickMart, 5050 W. Chicago Ave.
The teens working on the mural were mentored by Nailah Stevenson, a visual artist with more than 20 years of painting experience who was tapped to lead the project by the Westside Health Authority and ChicagoBility, a city program that sponsored the mural. The project was Stevenson’s first mural, a challenge she was eager to accept after teaching drawing, sketching and cooking classes to kids at Bowen High School.
Teens planning the mural decided it would have a theme of hope, so that their creation would resist the narratives of hopelessness that cast a shadow over Austin, Stevenson said.
“There was a sense of helplessness that they felt like they had to overcome,” she said. “So I immediately thought of a poem by the late Tupac Shakur entitled, ‘The Rose That Grew From Concrete.'”
The poem is rapper and poet Shakur’s autobiographical reflection on the tenacity of young people of color that dare to survive and even flourish in urban environments that are considered to be impoverished, disinvested and pushed to the margins. It reads:
Did you hear about the rose that grew
from a crack in the concrete?
Proving nature’s law is wrong it
learned to walk without having feet.
Funny it seems, but by keeping its dreams,
it learned to breathe fresh air.
Long live the rose that grew from concrete
when no one else ever cared.Tupac Shakur, the Rose that Grew from Concrete.
The mural shares the same name as Shakur’s poem, and borrows imagery of roses pushing up through broken pavement. The roses, Stevenson said, represent the teens who painted the mural, and all the others growing up out west that are determined to thrive regardless of their means.
“They were people who are kind of fighting an uphill battle, what might seem like a dire situation living in the inner city,” Stevenson said. “But throughout all obstacles and things that are kind of set up to deter you, you have to continue on. You have to find a way to keep going strong, and eventually grow and mature into your full potential.”
Beyond the cracked ground, the mural shows the city’s skyline, an affirmation that the glory of Chicago is matched by unique structural adversities passed down from generations of segregation, redlining and corruption.
“It has the beautiful side, but it also has its rough cracks that can use some repair,” Stevenson said. “Something beautiful can grow from it with a little nurturing and guidance.”
The mural offers its beholders some of that nurturing and guidance in the form of West African symbols known as Adinkra. The Adinkra selected by students appear in the mural as symbols espousing positivity, resilience and hope.
At the top of the mural is the Adinkra ananse ntontan, or the spider’s web. Like the fine complexity of a spider’s web, the symbol channels wisdom and creativity, shining over the city, over the roses and over the concrete as a beacon representing the transformative power of art to envision a future of peace, equity and justice.
The mural also incorporates black-and-white patterns traditionally used in Malian mud cloths. Stevenson decided use these designs and the Adinkra on the mural so that the students could have an entry point for exploring facets of their own history and culture they had become disconnected from over the generations.
“The Austin community being a predominantly African-American community, I wanted to provide some type of African cultural identity to the kids, who many of them had not really been exposed to before,” Stevenson said.
Pascal Sabino is a Report for America corps member covering Austin, North Lawndale and Garfield Park for Block Club Chicago.
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