Transforming Art

Isles Youth Institute and Leon Rainbow team up to keep the peace

A team of young artists with the support of the community has transformed the wall of Classico Auto Glass at 42 Ashmore Avenue, near Division Street in South Trenton. Leon Rainbow, Liz Amaral, and Raven George designed the mural and executed it with funding from Isles, Inc. and the work of students from Isles Youth Institute (IYI).

Leon Rainbow has known Alex Salguero, owner of Classico, since early 2020, when Mr. Salguero commissioned him to create some other paintings. Alex approached Leon several months ago to consider painting a mural on his wall along the adjacent alley. When they discussed the content of the painting, Salguero proposed something on the theme of anti-violence in response to the ongoing tragedy of homicides in Trenton. Leon approached Isles for support, and the organization embraced the project enthusiastically. He and the other lead artists conferred in October to develop the design and worked with IYI students for about 10 days in November to execute the project.

A small but enthusiastic crowd came out to celebrate the mural’s dedication. I was fortunate to speak with Faakhira Dickson, mother of Devon, one of IYI’s young artists. “My oldest son went to Isles years ago, back in the early 2000s, and he graduated at the age of 17. I put my youngest son here in this program because of the wonderful opportunities they offered my oldest son. It’s a better learning environment, it’s a small setting so it’s more family-oriented and you get more one-on-one attention with your instructors. My son Devon loves all his teachers there. He talks about the connections he has with them, and the opportunities Isles offers. It’s a very good way for students to transition to young adulthood.”

Anthony Richards, who works in Isles’ Youth Services program, stated, “We’re here today to celebrate the beauty, the art that the kids have made — not only as a community service but also as something tangible that the kids can take pride in doing, and that’s always a good thing.” Anthony introduces me to one of “his” kids: 14-year old Jahsaan Parker, a student in Isles’ after-school program, was shy at first, but showed the crowd the overall concept for the mural. It reads left-to-right, with negative emotions and aspects of life lettered in gloomy, muted, grey tones: “sad,” “pain,” “hate,” “fear,” and the like. There a Buddha-like figure sits as a symbol of the search for inner peace. The composition moves toward the right with themes of struggling through violence: signs reading, “Black Lives Matter,” and “Stop the Violence,” while featuring images of a paper crane representing peace, students graduating and ending at the far right in bright colors with a peace sign and an image of an astronaut that suggests one of the many exciting possibilities that students might aspire to as adults.

Stacy Heading, Isles Youth Services Outreach Manager, was happy to display the mural and the students who worked on it, prodding them to take more credit: “Part of what we teach our young people is about expressing themselves, being proud of what they’ve done.” By all appearances that is a lesson these students are learning well!

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