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Program helps middle school students navigate Life as a Boy
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Program helps middle school students navigate Life as a Boy

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After working on a Black Lives Matter mural Downtown, inspired boys painted their own murals that will be installed where they can see them on a regular basis.

Members of the Life as a Boy character development club at the Vera Court Neighborhood Center went Downtown where they helped repair a mural that had been defaced and then created their own small paintings that will be put up at the neighborhood center.

“It was fun because we got to work with others and people who believed in what we’re doing,” said Muhammad Ceesay, an incoming eighth-grader at Black Hawk Middle School. “We got to see a lot of cool murals.”

The mural the boys helped repair was called “526 Missed Opportunities,” which was created by architectural designers Michael Ford and Rafeeq Asad at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art. It features one white tick mark for every second a police officer had his knee on the neck of George Floyd, leading to his death May 25 and sparking nationwide protests.

Storefronts were boarded after protests sparked by the killing of Floyd and artists commissioned by the city and others then painted murals on the plywood.

“Doing the murals showed that people can share their feelings and what is happening to them and not just keep it to themselves,” said Jorah Gandjui, an incoming eighth-grader at Black Hawk. “All the murals are Black persons’ views in America.”

The boys were among many others who helped July 30 and 31 to nail on white-painted sticks to represent each second. But first they wrote a message on topics “near and dear to them” on the back of the sticks, said Tim Hall, elementary program manager at the Vera Court Neighborhood Center.

“It was a way for people to express their anger, maybe their joy, anything that was on their mind about the situation,” Hall said.

Basis for program

He designed the Life as a Boy program based on volunteerism, cultural enrichment and fellowship. It features a club for third- through fifth-graders and another for sixth- through eighth-graders. There is also a group for ninth- through 12th-graders that meets less frequently.

Hall took youth Downtown to see the process of making the mural as well as how important it is to get the message out, he said.

“A lot of people came by and were in love with it. I wanted them to think about the murals that we saw and the Black American experience,” Hall said.

Over the last couple of weeks the boys drew sketches and then worked off of them to paint their own small murals depicting subjects such as music, anger, protesting and peace. They will be combined into one large mural.

Individual messages

Hall wanted the boys to have an outlet to communicate their frustrations about what is going on.

“They are young, but they still have a voice, they still have an opinion,” he said. “It makes it more real and more relatable. ... You can make a mark on the world right now. You don’t have to wait.”

Gandjui said he likes to listen to music so his mural had that as a theme.

Ceesay painted flames and vehicles with a theme of “stop the violence, stop the silence.”

“We feel like they’re silencing us with violence (from police),” he said.

Godfrey Bradshaw, an incoming seventh-grader at Black Hawk, painted a peace symbol and heart to depict stopping police violence against Black people and the spreading of peace and love.

“Black Lives Matter is all about justice for things that have been going on that are wrong,” Godfrey said. “People are trying to make things right and fair and equal for everybody.”

Giving back

Mustafa Manneh, an incoming seventh-grader at Black Hawk, said Life as a Boy is “cool” because he gets to do activities relating to Black Lives Matter. The movement symbolizes freedom to him.

The program’s volunteerism allows the boys to give back to the community through activities like packing up and delivering food from the Second Harvest Foodbank of Southern Wisconsin to families.

“It feels good to help other people,” said Wilson Foueppe, an incoming seventh-grader at Black Hawk.

“They are young, but they still have a voice, they still have an opinion.” Tim Hall, Vera Court Neighborhood Center

“They are young, but they still have a voice, they still have an opinion."

Tim Hall, Vera Court Neighborhood Center


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