Students, volunteers paint murals at Miami bus stops

05/02/2014 3:56 PM

05/02/2014 3:57 PM

Residents sitting at the bus stop at Northwest 22nd Avenue and 56th Street in Liberty City can expect a little more color during their daily commute.

A group called the Moving the Lives of Kids Community Mural Project — or MLK Mural — plans to paint historic and uplifting murals at 77 bus stops in Liberty City and adjoining neighborhoods.

On April 26, with the volunteered support from Habitat for Humanity of Greater Miami, AP art students from Miami Northwestern met at the Liberty City bus stop to paint the organization’s second mural.

Miami-Dade County Commissioner Audrey M. Edmonson provided $3,000 to MLK Mural’s initiative and made an appearance to help paint.

“I am so very proud of the young people who are working on the MLK Mural Project,” Edmonson said. “They’re contributing their talent, their love of art and their hard work, and I am grateful for their participation. The mural will be enjoyed by residents and visitors alike and will help us remember that if we are strong and united, we can accomplish much to make our community a more vibrant place to live.”

Woff Senatus, a Perrine-based artist who volunteers to mentor students in the program.

“People live in society but never think they can alter it in any way,” said Senatus, 24, who goes by the nickname “Wolfgang Mosaic.”

Senatus, whose artwork can be seen throughout Little Haiti and Wynwood, came to the United State at the age of 2. For Senatus, art has been a medium not only to tell stories but to help shape the minds of people.

According to Kyle Holbrook, the organization’s founder and executive artist, this is the overall mission of MLK Mural.

“Miami is now the mural mecca of the world,” said Holbrook, 36. “We just want to get the kids involved in this movement.”

Holbrook started the organization in 2002 in Pittsburgh. He says that, ensuing from an idea to use public art as a way to reach the youth, he created MLK Murals as a way for kids on summer vacation to do positive community work.

Since then, as many as 5,000 kids and professional artists painted murals in Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Georgia, Texas and Florida, as well as in Haiti and Brazil. The organization makes it a priority to reach out to aspiring artists, schools, community groups, foster homes, juvenile justice halls, churches and after-school programs.

“If we want to know what’s going on with the youth, we have to teach them ways to express themselves,” Holbrook said.

Holbrook says this citywide project give kids a public platform to express themselves, where thousands of people will see their work.

MLK Mural chose to paint a design created by Bernisha Fleurinor, a senior in the medical magnet program at Northwestern High. Her mural was the winner in a recent student-body competition.

Alongside a vibrant portrait of Martin Luther King Jr. painted onto the concrete was the phrase, “Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.” Bernisha selected the quotation from Dr. martin Luther King Jr.

Malik Smith, a youth manager for MLK Mural, says this kind of message can change the day of the average bus commuter.

“All paintings tell stories — this one is about faith,” said Smith, 18. “If you don’t have faith, you’re not going to get anywhere in life.”

Smith went on to describe a fictitious character sitting at the bus stop, ready to give up, seeing the message and being moved. In this community, sometimes a simple positive message can be life-altering, according to Smith, who has faced his share of trouble with the law.

“No matter where you came from –– from being in trouble to sitting in a jail cell –– you can overcome,” said Smith, who was arrested last year for a fighting-related incident.

Smith says he’s thankful for the positive role MLK Mural has played in his life.

“In the great words of my boss Kyle, ‘I never thought a paint brush could change a kid’s life,’ ” Smith said.

Edward Rawson, chief operating officer for MLK Mural, agrees.

Rawson met Holbrook in Pittsburgh in 2002 after a twist of fate stalled his Miami-New York travel plans. Rawson says that MLK is doing something special and that’s the only thing that matters to him.

“I always like seeing that magic moment when a car stops and says ‘You’re doing a good job!’ ” Rawson said. “Putting your self out there and getting appreciated for it makes you feel important.”

Sometimes, according to Rawson, that is what a kid needs most.

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