Changing the perception of a community often begins with the people in and around it.
Take 11-year-old Kennise O’Neal and 14-year-old Rachel Diaz.
The middle school girls participated in an art project over the summer that turned an ugly, abandoned building across the street from Lanigan Park in the Commodore Perry neighborhood into a work of art.
On Monday, the Fulton Street Community Art Project was unveiled.
“I wanted to give back to the community,” said Kennise, a sixth-grader at Westminster Community Charter School. “That’s something my family does.”
The Community Art Project was part of the University at Buffalo Summer Academic Camp, a component of the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority – Perry Choice Neighborhood. The camp was a five-week, project-based course for middle school students from grades six to eight. The aim was to improve writing, reading, computer and research skills for participating students by solving “real world” neighborhood development problems.
At the heart of the program was the notion that one way to inspire and motivate children is to show the relationship between things they learned in class and their ability to make change, said Henry Taylor, planning coordinator of the Perry Choice Neighborhood Planning Initiative.
“The purpose of education is not just to earn a living, but it’s also about creating a world worth living in,” Taylor said.
“In many cases, people see education as a vehicle to escape, to run away from neighborhoods because they’re not good. Our motto at Perry Choice is ‘Our Neighborhood. Our Choice.’ Our purpose is to create a neighborhood we want to live in.”
Kennise and Rachel were members of the student group of young artists that selected the abandoned building to paint.
For her contribution, Kennise used her favorite colors: pink, purple, blue and magenta.
Rachel, an eighth-grader at Elmwood Village Charter School, heard about the camp from her grandmother, a BMHA employee. Rachel wants to be a fashion designer when she grows up and thought the art component of the summer camp would be a great way to express herself.
She chose colors that matched her emotions.
“That day I was angry, so I used red, orange and like a beige,” said the William Street resident.
In addition to BMHA and UB, partners in the initiative and the summer academic camp included the Buffalo Public Schools, Say Yes to Education Buffalo, Closing the Gap, United Way of Buffalo and Erie County, the Community Action Organization of Erie County and the Boys and Girls Clubs of Buffalo.