Like most graduation ceremonies the underlying sentiment echoed among students is hope, and for PAAN Youth Partners who successfully completed the Philadelphia Restorative Justice Mural Arts Program that same feeling rang true.
“It’s a great opportunity, a second chance at life. I thought, I have to change…I am getting older and I can’t do the stuff I used to do,” said YVRP’s John Jackson III. “They gave me a lot of opportunities to take out to the world. It prepared me for life.”
Dozens of mentors, community leaders, city officials, program organizers, and PAAN staff packed out the Lincoln Financial Mural Arts Center at the Thomas Eakins House as seven participants in our Youth Reduction Violence Program received honors for completing the six month program.
“It’s a nice feeling inside to know people driving pass see the art on the wall and you think inside your head, dang I really did that,” said Jackson.
The nationally-acclaimed program created for ex-offenders and at-risk youth is the culmination of training, mentorship, and project completion in Mural Arts activities which focus on five disciplines including: Wall and Mural Preparation, Restoration Building Repair, Mosaic Tiling and Masonry, Landscaping, and Carpentry.
YVRP’s Khalil McNeil, who organizers say made an impression on them, was hired to work part-time with group scaffolding their spring murals.
“When I first started, like the scaffolds…like certain ones were real high but once you get up there and you look down, you’ll be alright. I have a daughter and now I can say ‘look I did that’. I mean, it gave me something I can be proud about,” said McNeil.
The group uses restorative justice practices as part of the program; a concept of justice that not only focuses on the offender but on the victims and communities who have been affected by their decisions. According to the program, it’s an alternative to incarceration and revenge, enabling all parties to communicate, attempt to understand what has happened to the community, and then proceed to healing and restoration by using art as a catalyst. Robyn Buseman is the Restorative Justice Program Director.
“It’s really important to develop their interest and skills but also understand that they need to think about consequences of choices that they made. It’s important that you cover those bases. We focus on all aspects of the problem,” said Buseman.
Our youth partners worked on more than a dozen projects across Philadelphia for six months including: helping with the design, wall preparation, and installation of the Special Victims Unit mural located in Hunting Park, deconstructing homes in the La Salle area in which 90 percent of the materials were salvaged, recycled and refurbished; and creating Loving Memories, a memorial artwork honoring the lives of a mother and her three children who were killed when a carjacked SUV crashed into them at the corner of Germantown and Allegheny Avenues last year. It was a project that YVRP’s Lebaron McDonald is most proud of completing.
“I really liked working on that one because it was something to help the families that lost the lives of a lot of children due to that accident,” said Mc Donald. “I was happy that we could come together and help out with that kind of project and make a difference in that community.”
The transformative experience also included workshops which focused on general employment readiness skills like public speaking, customer service, personal finance, preparation for job applications and interviews. Dawan Williams, PAAN’s Job Development and Placement Consultant, served as facilitator of the Mural Arts’ Parenting Workshop.
“I think this [the program] is brilliant; that it is distinct and unique and provides results at the end. They leave this program with a different mindset,” said Williams.
“I look at a lot of things with a different perspective, especially with the Parenting Class,” said YVRP’s Lebaron Mc Donald. “We talked about men things, realistic things, and it gives us a chance to look at ourselves in the mirror.”
The program boasts a remarkable track record in reducing recidivism. It has a 60 percent success rate, according to Buseman. Organizers continue to work with our youth partners for 18 months after the program ends. More than 500 at risk youth participate in the program each year.
Congratulations to all our graduates: Kyleef Washington, Charquetta Robinson, Quran Justice, John Jackson III, Lebaron McDonald, Morris Dennis, and Khalil McNeil.