• December 12, 2018 | 37° F 50d Haze

Gallery and Video: Detroit Artists and Students Brighten H.S. with Pride and Purpose

February 26, 2018, 7:58 AM by  Alan Stamm

Detroit students will see vivid, vibrant changes Monday when they return to Communication and Media Arts High School from winter break.

A few artistic schoolmates came in during the Presidents Week recess to join six local muralists who enlivened cinder block walls and two bathrooms -- a community service project connecting them to their younger selves. "This experience definitely inspired me to want to work with our youth more," posts an artist using the name Uncle Tae. (Sixteen photos and a video are below.)

These six professional artists turn plain walls into displays of pride and motivation. 


The artwork reinforces pride and empowerment at the public school of choice on Mansfield Street in Grandmont-Rosedale on the northwest side, which earns bronze-level recognition in a U.S. News & World Report ranking of best U.S. high schools. The hallway murals are playful and purposeful, with Egyptian elements reflecting the sports teams' nickname (Pharoahs) and African tribal masks reflecting some students' heritage.

Motivational messages include a phoenix bird rising, the words "Peace, Power, Prosper" with a pharoah profile and a crown-wearing figure labeled "CMA," the college prep school's initials. "Do the required work to create a life" is another brushstroke slogan on a corridor wall.

"Love what you do, do what you love," a painter going by "Tony Whlgn (Hoo-li-gen)" displays at the bottom of his design, which includes phrases to uplift and inspire: "Stay focused, Love yourself, Be Humble, Consistency, Be you."  

Even newly decorated toilet stall doors spread positivity. "Keep going," says one. "What if you're an expert at something and don't even know it yet?" asks another.             

The mid-winter collaboration, organized by motivational speaker Toni Jones and approved by Principal Donya Odom, enlisted students from a leadership group called the Pharaoh Dreamers that Jones advises.

Instagram posts by a few of the older artists, which are the source of these images, show respect for the teens.

"I had privilege to work with some super dope kids from CMA," says Ivan Azaan Tarver, a 32-year-old painter and poet who grew up near Plymouth and Evergreen roads, about three miles southwest of the school.  

Traeron ("Trae") Isaac Vawters, a Cass Tech High School and University of Detroit Mercy graduate, comments Friday:

I've had the honor and opportunity to create and collaborate on a mural for CMA High School and its amazing students.

As someone who's been saved by art, it was truly a blessing to throw down for those growing up in today's world and show them that it’s possible to literally live your dreams.

A painter and videographer working as "Uncle Tae" says he's "beyond honored and blessed to have part in creating new, inspirational and uplifting art in CMA for our youth. . . . It's something about being that reliable resource to the future kings and queens that gets blood flowing through my body."

Here are examples of the process and the results, followed by Uncle Tae's four-minute video about the project:

Tony "Whlgn" (Hoo-li-gen) adds color to the outline of his hallway creation.

Ivan Azaan Tarver and a CMA student, left, prepare a corridor design.

Egyptian and other African influences reflect the school's pharoah mascot and some students' heritage.
Tony "Whlgn," who also designs apparel, grew up on Detroit's east side. The next three photos also show him and his work.

Tony "Whlgn," left, and Traeron ("Trae") Isaac Vawters.

Ivan Azaan Tarver, right, grew up less than four miles from the west-side high school.

Tarver's finished mural symbolizes a CMA High student starting a journey.

One of the teen participants strikes a proud pose.

Meaningful messages for when students have to go.

Trisha Sellers, a student, created stylish doors in a girls' bathroom.
Another philosophical thought in a private place.

Video by project participant 'Uncle Tae:'


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