This project was inspired by the selfless acts of forgiveness by Janice Jackson Burke and her son Kevin Johnson. 4 years ago Kevin was shot and subsequently paralyzed over a basketball jersey he was wearing. Through all their hardships they found it within themselves to confront and forgive the attackers.
On November 14th 2006 Kevin passed away due to complications from his breathing apparatus. Janice continued to give lectures and tell their story.
Jane Golden has been involved with Janice from the beginning, and introduced us. For three months I became acquainted with Janice and her family, through frequent trips to Graterford Prison.
Workshops involving the men of my class, and kids in St Gabriel's Hall were held in the prison. Janice would revisit her emotions for the sake of the kids; these meetings yielded poetry, and imagery for the mural.
Through these extraordinary meetings, the inmates were able to hear first hand the grief of a victim of violence, and Janice was able to come to know men who are imprisoned for life.
I wanted to find small ways to broaden the scope of this very personal story, and I thought of the parable of the Prodigal Son. The very archetype of Forgiveness.
The main figures in the mural imitate poses from the Rembrandt painting of the story. After unveiling the design at the prison, the Graterford inmates relayed the parable and its meaning to the youth.
The purple figure represents the person being forgiven. The text above reads: "Put down the weight of hate and envy and blame and solitude and wishing that my circumstances could be different".
The glass of the doves branch out in rays emanating from one of the center birds close to Janice. They represent the spiritual and physical healing possible through letting go.
There is a literal meaning as well, doves were also released at Kevin's funeral.
A faded prison tower exists to illustrate forgiveness of self. One man wrote the accompanying verse.
Janice lent a hand with the painting as well, she worked on panels that would become Kevin's eyes. Over 100 people took part in painting these mural panels.
This includes kids in St Gabel's Hall, H.O.C., Graterford Prison, Women from the Erie House Shelter, and countless kids and adults from the neighborhood.
I felt these workshops were necessary in order to properly introduce the neighborhood to the work that we have been doing, and involve them all in the process.
Together we painted major sections of the mural and set and grouted two of the mosaic tile doves.
When organizing a workshop, I find that its more rewarding for the participants to be able to see the fruits of their labor after a few sessions.
I reserved the bottom six feet of wall space for the workshops as well. My assistants and I would spend hours mixing colors and blocking out areas for the kids to fill in.
Towards the end of the mural project a local social worker named Martin suggested a verse from a text that was in accord with the mural's theme.
During the dedication Jane Golden spoke of her relationship with Janice and Kevin throughout the years.
In a coincidental turn of events one of the attackers became involved in our Mural Program while serving time in the House of Corrections, Jane was instrumental in bringing the parties together.
The neighborhood, as well as people and officials citywide, gathered to commemorate the mural on October 16th; Celebrating the collaboration and paying their respects to Kevin Johnson.
The Mural took over six months to complete. It now brightens the corner of 13th and Erie. Neighbors all remember Kevin from the news and feel his story is a relevant and unique way to deal with the plague of violence in Philadelphia.