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Family & Children’s Services of Guelph and Wellington County Celebrate Black Heritage Month through Art.

By Jenna Afshar on February 24, 2021 in Uncategorized
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The mural’s artist, Marissa, stands in front of her work

Guelph, ON – February 24 2021 – This year, Family & Children’s Services of Guelph and Wellington County wanted to mark the celebration of Black Heritage Month in a very big way, with a large mural splashed across the front of its Eramosa office windows.

The mural, painted by Marissa Santin, a youth connected with the organization is a visual depiction of the Guelph Black Heritage Society’s chosen theme for this year’s Black Heritage Month, Honouring the Past, Celebrating Today and Looking to the Future.

Beth, who works with youth receiving services from FCSGW, thought of Marissa almost instantly when the topic of a mural was discussed. “When I first met Marissa at her school, I saw her work hanging in the Vice principal’s office and I was immediately impressed with her talent.  This is the first window mural Marissa has done and she really did a fabulous job bringing the vision for this project to life.”

Through Marissa’s talents, and the contributions of many others behind-the-scenes, what started as a single idea in early December has now blossomed into a beautifully rich tapestry of images and ideas that encapsulates this year’s theme in a vibrant and meaningful way.

Really wanting the vision for the mural to be led by the thoughts, voices, and lived experiences of folks from the Black/African Canadian community, a small committee comprised of black staff and youth in care met virtually with Marissa in January to collaborate and share ideas.

The results were much more powerful than anything the organization could have imagined. Building from this year’s Black Heritage Month theme, the committee’s vision came to life through hours of conversation, planning and painting.

To represent and honour past Black/African Leaders, the group decided to include the images of Viola Desmond, Lincoln Alexander and Martin Luther King Jr. To celebrate the present, the committee decided on an image of Amanda Gorman and a quote from her inauguration poem, “The Hill We Climb,” as well as an image of a Black Lives Matter poster.

To represent hope for the future, the planning committee felt that it was important to include powerful symbolism, and decided upon a very natural metaphor – falling leaves, which bring with them hope for a new season.

To capture this, Marissa painted a tree, stretching to the very tops of the tall office windows, covered in fall leaves. The tree’s changing leaves were decided upon as a metaphor for the racism and inequities that Black/African folks around the globe continue to experience. In looking at the mural, the viewer eagerly waits for the moment that these turning leaves will fall from the tree, marking the moment where equity will prevail. That the leaves have already changed colour, gives the viewer hope that the birth of this new season has already begun in the movement for change.

The committee decided that depicting children in the mural would also be a natural representation of hope for the future. Painted standing hand-in-hand at the base of the mural, a diverse group of children can be seen looking to the Black/African leaders of the past and present, to give them hope, strength and inspiration for a brighter future. Similarly, the inclusion of the words Equity, Love, Acceptance, Hope, Respect, Diversity and Justice painted across the mural represent the committee’s sincere hope for what the future will bring.

Marissa, who spent over 20 hours creating and perfecting her work on the building’s windows, was eager to participate in the project from its outset. “I really appreciate the opportunity to use my talents to honour the heritage and contributions, past and present, of Black people globally and in our community.”

Family & Children’s Services of Guelph and Wellington County is thrilled to share this beautiful mural on its windows in honour of Black Heritage Month this February. It hopes that this work of art will help to draw attention to the importance of Black Heritage Month, and inspire hope for a more equitable future for Black/African Canadians, where diversity is honoured, respected and celebrated by all, and love and acceptance prevail.

Sheila Markle, Executive Director of Family & Children’s Services, acknowledges that the organization certainly has its own role to play in carving this path toward a more equitable future. “We know that there is an overrepresentation of Black/African children and youth in care, and we recognize that there is so much work to be done. As an organization, we are deeply committed to building capacity and developing strategies that ensure equitable outcomes for children and families, and especially Black/African Canadian and Indigenous children and families”.

The mural will remain on the windows of the organization’s Eramosa office for the next few weeks.

About the Author

Jenna AfsharView all posts by Jenna Afshar