Brownsville youth showcase the beauty of their neighborhood

brownsville mural groundswell chris soria donchristian jones brownsville community justice center
A group of young people in Brownsville, led by artist Chris Soria and assistant artist DonChristian Jones, spent the summer painting this mural on the corner of Pitkin Avenue and Straus Street in Brownsville, Brooklyn. Credit: Bess Adler

A good deal of attention has been paid to the Brownsville neighborhood in Brooklyn over the last few weeks, after a 16-month-old baby boy was shot in the head as his father pushed him in his stroller across Livonia Avenue. They were on their way to visit the toddler’s great-grandmother.

Brownsville is known as one of the city’s toughest areas when it comes to gun violence, but there are many in the neighborhood who are trying to change that. Just two days before 16-month-old Antiq Hennis was fatally shot, a group of young Brownsville residents were proudly unveiling a pristine mural they had spent the summer painting.

The mural, on the corner of Straus Street and Pitkin Avenue, is the result of a collaboration between several parties: a community mural organization called Groundswell; the Department of Transportation; the Pitkin Avenue Business Improvement District; Brownsville Community Justice Center; and an artist named Chris Soria and his assistant artist DonChristian Jones.

Soria explained the idea, which came about through a number of workshops and brainstorming activities with a group of about 15 youth over the course of a month.

“We wanted to kind of re-create the narrative of Brownsville and also examine how the narrative of Brownsville is framed in mainstream media and take a look at it from alternative perspectives, really emphasizing the complex nature of relationships between family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, community leaders and just the residents of Brownsville,” Soria said.

The young artists were apparently inspired by the work of El Anatsui after a field trip to the Brooklyn Museum, seizing on “the idea of creating a fabric of interwoven material.”

“Since we were working on a painting,” Soria said. “We wanted to incorporate that aspect of things weaving in and out of one another in the design.”

Artist Chris Soria, left, and assistant artist DonChristian Jones, right, talked about their design at the unveiling of the mural one last summer Friday afternoon. Credit: Bess Adler
Artist Chris Soria, left, and assistant artist DonChristian Jones, right, talked about their design at the unveiling of the mural one last summer Friday afternoon. Credit: Bess Adler

Most of the youth came to the project through the Brownsville Community Justice Center.

“They have some kind of criminal justice involvement, but part of this program is to start to change their own personal narrative, as well as change the narrative of the neighborhood,” explained James Brodick, the project director at the organization.

Dashawn Hayes, one of the young people who worked on the mural, said the experience was “an awesome adventure.”

“I had fun throughout the whole thing,” Hayes said. “My co-workers, everybody was outstanding, everybody had a certain energy that they brought to the table.”

“We were just a family,” he added. “I’m gonna remember these people for the rest of my life and I really appreciate that.”

Hayes proudly noted that he has already earned eight certificates for achievements through Brownsville Community Justice Center projects this year alone.

“People actually acknowledge me for my efforts,” he said.

Sean Turner, another young Brownsville resident who worked on the project, is a visual artist himself. Turner noted that this is his second Brownsville mural: He started last year with the one that now sits on Rockaway and Sutter just a few blocks away. He said he’s “hoping we can get a third one soon.”

“May not with Groundswell, maybe just for us, like something that we want to do for the community,” he mused.

Hayes, on the other hand, is a musical artist. This was his first time working with visual arts.

“I never thought that I could … express my feelings through art like this,” he said. “I felt like it was a good technique and something that we should explore — everybody should explore.”

Turner acknowledged Brownsville “is a rough neighborhood,” but said he really believes in the ability of projects like the mural to have a positive affect on the neighborhood and its residents.

“You have to go against everything that is negative and think about positive things,” he insisted. “I think to see something nice prooduced in the neighborhood — it will help change it. The small things that we do will make it get better eventually.”

“Rome wasn’t built in a day so we can’t expect Brownsville to change in a day,” Turner added.

Hayes agreed that projects like the mural can “of course” help young people in the neighborhood make better decisions and stay away from gun violence.

“I think if they actually stay and participate and see the experience they’re going to be getting, they’ll actually want to stay,” he said. “Because that’s how it was for me.”

Follow Danielle Tcholakian on Twitter @danielleiat


News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
International

'Barack Obama cheats on Michelle' claims Japanese politician…

A senior Japanese politician has marred Barack Obama's official visit to Tokyo with bizarre claims that the President cheats on his wife Michelle. Kazuyuki Hamada,…

International

British Royal family devastated by freak NY death…

The British royals have been left devastated by the death of Mark Shand, younger brother of Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, after a freak fall in…

Local

VIDEO: Police seek suspect in molotov cocktail attack…

Police released surveillance video on Wednesday in hopes of tracking down a man who threw a molotov cocktail inside a Brooklyn corner store.

Local

City Council budget asks for 1,000 additional NYPD…

Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito unveiled the City Council's budget priorities on Wednesday, including the extra cops for the NYPD at a cost of $94.3 million.

Television

‘Survivor: Cagayan’ recap: Episode 9

It was only an hour-long episode, but there's a lot to cover this week. The drama of Survivor strikes again as the identity of the…

Television

TV watch list, Wednesday, April 23: 'Suburgatory,' 'Modern…

'Suburgatory' The men of "Suburgatory" go camping and Tessa mentors a social outcast in a Miss Chatswin contest, which brings her, once again, into conflict…

The Word

The best lines from Oprah's ex-stepmother's Daily Mail…

Oprah’s ex-stepmother, Barbara Winfrey, is out for revenge.

Books

A debut novel about fate, love and moving…

Pia Padukone talks about her debut novel, "Where Earth Meets Water."

NFL

2014 NFL Mock Draft: Updated, new April 24…

2014 NFL Mock Draft: Updated, new April 24 version

NFL

Giants 2014 regular season schedule

The Giants will play five prime-time games — against the Lions, Redskins, Eagles, Colts and Cowboys.

MLB

Jets 2014 regular season schedule

The Jets will play three prime-time games — against the Bears, Patriots and Dolphins — as well as a CBS national game in Week 2 at Green Bay.

NBA

Phil Jackson talked to Steve Kerr, pushes for…

Knicks president Phil Jackson spoke to the media for the first time since firing head coach Mike Woodson on Monday.

Style

Pippa Middleton's Etsy pick: Golden Thread Jewelry

Get a look at the jewelry Pippa Middleton loves and find out how you can buy it too.

Parenting

What every parent needs to know to get…

Mom and author of "Small Talk," Tracey Blake, shares her five practical tips to help you develop your children's language skills.

Sex

Subway crush: Meet your soulmate on your commute

Read about a couple who has been 40 years after meeting on the train.

Tech

Happy birthday, Game Boy! The handheld console turns…

Nintendo's Game Boy turns 25 this week. To commemorate, we look at some of its better games, like "Tetris" and "The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening."