Amid deadly shootings in Youngstown, Ohio, street art for peace

“People have come to realize the power of public art. It’s not like the TV or the radio where you can just turn it off and switch to another channel, ”muralist Kyle Holbrook said.

YOUNGSTOWN – Along Glenwood Avenue is a message of peace, a few blocks from the scenes of at least three shootings in the city this year – one of which was fatal.

A new mural depicting spread fingers in a “peace” sign and the reading “Stop Gun Violence,” painted by international artist Kyle Holbrook, is due to be unveiled at 11 a.m. today at 2622 Glenwood Ave. This is part of Holbrook’s 50-state tour, using street art to raise awareness of the increase in gun violence nationwide.

“You see it as something regional. … But all American cities are talking about it right now. It’s an epidemic raging across the country, ”said Holbrook, who resides in Miami and Pittsburgh, and whose relatives live in Youngstown.

“I think the more people realize that this gun violence is happening across the country, the more people will think of solutions. “

The first reported fatal shooting in the city this year occurred nine minutes after midnight on January 1, a few blocks south of the Glenwood Avenue business, the side of which is now adorned with the Holbrook mural.

As of Tuesday, there have been 21 homicides so far this year and nearly 100 people have been shot dead, WKBN reported. A non-fatal shooting occurred just one block from the Holbrook mural on Saturday night, according to WKBN. And in May, another non-fatal shootout outside a playground near the mural caused a vehicle to crash into a building, the TV station reported.

Holbrook, too, grew up surrounded by gun violence, punctuated by numerous burials between his teens and 40s. He said 45 of his close friends since childhood have been murdered with guns.

“I have several uncles who are veterans. One of them fought in Vietnam. He knows [fewer] friends that were murdered, ”Holbrook said. “It’s here in America.”

Last week, a mass shooting at a Samuel Avenue home resulted in the death of 10-year-old Persayus Davis-May. Authorities said last week they believed the shooting was linked to the shooting death of Michael Callahan, 40, reported just one kilometer south of the house.

Calling times for Davis-May are August 25, and a memorial service is scheduled for noon Thursday at the Jaylex Event Center along Glenwood Avenue, WFMJ reported.

Shooting victims and their killers are getting younger, Holbrook found. One of Holbrook’s mentors is Rashad Byrdsong, a community advocate well known for leading anti-violence initiatives in Pittsburgh’s East End, and whose 15-year-old grandson Jafar Brooks has was shot and killed in December, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported.

Byrdsong, who has worked in the past to mediate between violent gangs, is now using the tragedy to “dig even deeper” and expand his outreach programs, Holbrook said.

Gun violence is a scourge of generations, Holbrook believes. The explosive gang violence of the late 1980s and early 1990s led a generation of boys growing up without father figures or male mentors, who instead found them in modern rap artists, who “talk about shooting in. almost all the songs, ”said Holbrook.

“Life, to some extent, still imitates art,” he said.

Gang culture was also part of the social fabric of his youth, Holbrook added.

“In high school, when there were gangs, you couldn’t even be popular unless you were in a gang. Girls love “bad boys,” he said. “There is a certain type of social infrastructure that makes it cool.

“And once you realize – once you lose someone – that it’s not cool, then it’s too late.” Now it’s, ‘This person killed a loved one and you want to fight back.’ “

For its part, Holbrook’s organization, Moving the Lives of Kids Community Mural Project, which funds its tour of murals across the country, provides education, employment and employment opportunities for idle youth, a- he declared. Holbrook’s murals can be found in 28 states and 43 countries, he said. In 2019, more than 45,000 men and women were involved in the organization, according to its website, MLKMural.com.

And he plans to return to Youngstown to work with local youth, artists and educators.

Holbrook said he hoped his contemporary street art – similar in style to popular British street artist Banksy – could serve as a memorial to those killed by gun violence. After years of suppressing his own grief, art has become a form of therapy – a way to cope with personal losses, he said.

The medium itself has grown in popularity since the murder of George Floyd by the Minneapolis police last summer, and with the help of art-centric social media platforms like Instagram, he said. Some of the public murals he painted 20 years ago are still there today, he said.

Physical and public art is also able to cut through media noise – the kind of incessant message not only about gun violence, but all pressing social issues, which Holbrook says makes us desensitized.

“People have come to realize the power of public art. It’s not like the TV or the radio where you can just turn it off and switch to another channel, ”Holbrook said. “The messages you describe in a public artwork are going to be visible.

“They can make a lasting impression while getting a message across. “

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