This summer, Brooklyn-based non-profit Bailey’s Cafe – in partnership with our Paul Robeson Freedom School and the Church of St. Luke & St. Matthew – will embark on a community mural project to preserve the legacy of Paul Robeson High School, shuttered by the NYC Dept. of Education. Bailey’s executive director Stefanie Siegel writes:
Bailey’s Cafe is a Brooklyn-based organization, connecting generations to make a better world. We are the fiscal sponsor and lead organization for a mural project that would preserve the legacy of the school; although it was a group of young people and staff members who wrote the original proposal to Citizens Committee for New York City. Citizens is now recognizing Bailey’s as the lead partner and continues to want to see the project completed. They were only waiting for us to find an appropriate site and now we have a perfect mural wall on the Vanderbilt side of the Church of St. Luke and St. Matthew in Fort Greene Brooklyn.
The original vision for the mural was for it to fill the walls of the Lyles Studio, named after Marcia Lyles, the principal responsible for transforming Robeson into the great school it was, until 2002 when the small school movement was started by Bloomberg and Klein and larger schools, like Robeson, became over crowded and inundated with high needs students—beyond the numbers we could successfully serve. The idea is for the mural to capture all of the history of the school through the memories of those who experienced it. We have two lead artists for the project but we would like all members, past and present, of the Robeson community to participate in the design and creation process, should they so desire. Not only is this project for the Robeson community but it is also, potentially, a model for other school communities, who have gone through the destructive, humiliating process of having your school declared a failure and phased out, as to how to preserve their history.
The struggle to save Paul Robeson High School was a struggle for justice to be served. We did not win the fight; the school will be officially “phased out” by June 2014. Despite this failure, many lessons were learned and it is these lessons, the story of one urban school, that can connect people who were not part of the immediate Robeson community. It is the legacy of the life of Paul Robeson, who took up the banner of the working classes, the underdog, the undesirable that can give our mural project a more universal, inclusive design and message. Following this tradition, it is part of the process for creating the mural to have the immediate (and extended) community engaged in the project.
We will model the work on the mural after the Groundswell Community Mural Project wherein the community (defined with a broad brush) is invited into the design process and the celebration of the final work. We are inviting community members of all ages to join us in designing and creating the mural on this beautiful wall. We hope to begin work during July and will have a schedule of times when our lead artists will be working and it will be possible to come by and pick up a brush.
Deep appreciation to the church community for welcoming us. We are looking forward to working with you.