State College

Mural with a message: State College school looks for lasting impression with civil-rights project

The State College Friends School is attempting to raise money through a GoFundMe campaign to help digitize and make permanent its “Until All of Us Are Free” mural.
The State College Friends School is attempting to raise money through a GoFundMe campaign to help digitize and make permanent its “Until All of Us Are Free” mural. Photo provided

Bulletin board paper may be useful for school projects, but it doesn’t hold up as well on its own as a permanent fixture.

As 11 middle school students at State College Friends School learned about the push for civil rights, they began working in early January on a “Until All of Us Are Free” paper mural — made entirely of thumbprints — dedicated to people who died advocating for those rights.

Now the school is looking to turn the work into a more lasting tribute. Students there are taught to look for voices “that are left out of the narrative” about American history, said teacher Laura Beckley, who helped with the mural effort.

“It’s not just white men,” Beckley said. “(It’s about) what happened to women, what happened to children, what happened to African-Americans, Native Americans, immigrants. So (the students’) ability to create this project comes from their ability to listen to the world and to listen to the silence.”

Students completed the mural in about a week and displayed it until Friday, when it was disassembled by local photographer Michael Black and local artist William Snyder III, who plan to turn it into a permanent display piece and make a digital copy. Its focal point is a portrait of Martin Luther King Jr.’s mugshot from a Birmingham, Alabama, jail.

The work includes statements from King, names of African-Americans shot and killed by police and more than 3,600 thumbprints.

The school hopes to raise $5,500 through the GoFundMe website to help pay for the lasting display piece. By Monday evening, contributors had given more than $1,800 since the campaign’s Friday kickoff.

“The 3,446 white thumbprints around King represent the known blacks lynched in America since 1882, while red ones represent the 223 blacks fatally shot by police in 2017 alone,” a statement on GoFundMe reads in part. “That is 23 percent of all fatal police shootings for the year, though black Americans only comprise 13 percent of the population.”

Students organized the project and divvied up various roles amongst themselves, teacher Bailey Kellermann said. Grayson Ruble was in charge of counting the thumbprints and ensuring they were evenly spaced, and Adelaide Eburne was among several students to work on King’s portrait.

“I was really surprised by how much people liked it, honestly,” Ruble said. “I knew that we spent a lot of time planning it out and knew what we were doing and it was good work, but I didn’t realize the impact it would have on people or that people would love it as much as they do, which is really cool.”

Various organizations, such as Foxdale Village Retirement Community and the Centre County Recycling and Refuse Authority, asked for copies of the work, Kellermann said. The school’s head, Donnan Stoicovy, said the mural was “pretty powerful” because the students understood how to communicate a message through art.

“The minute they put it up, I saw that and it was like, ‘We have to do something with this beyond just displaying it in our school.’ It was immediate,” Stoicovy said. “It was so representational, so meaningful, and the work the students put into it was amazing.”

Kellermann said she felt lucky to be a part of the project.

“Middle schoolers often get a bad rap,” Kellermann said. “I think (people) don’t understand what middle schoolers are capable of. I think, in this mural, it sort of ties all of that up for me. They’re capable of deep understanding, deep empathy, deep emotion and also capable of ... feeling safe enough to share that passion out there with our community.”

The empty space surrounding King’s portrait signifies the “fight isn’t over,” Kellermann said. She mentioned the death last week of Osaze Osagie, 29, who was killed in a confrontation with State College police.

“Because the Osagies were local and are known to many — especially at (Penn State) University — I’d like to get their permission before adding his name,” Kellermann said. “Of course, in my opinion, it belongs there. The students also asked if we could add his name the day after the news broke, but I wanted to give the parents some time before seeking permission.”

Bret Pallotto primarily reports on courts and crime for the Centre Daily Times. He grew up in Lewistown and graduated from Lock Haven University.