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This  Foundation Paired 20 Middle-Schoolers With a Professional Muralist to do This...

The Melquain Jatelle Anderson Foundation helped students produce five murals at their school in Fort Greene
Some of the students at Fort Greene Preparatory Academy who designed the new murals in the school’s cafeteria look on at the unveiling of their artwork. Photo: Will Fritz

Five murals painted by students at a Fort Greene area school-- part of a partnership with an anti-gun-violence organization-- were unveiled unveiled on Friday.

The murals, which grace the walls of the cafeteria that is shared by public middle school Fort Greene Preparatory Academy as well as P.S. 046, were painted by 20 students who were paired with a professional muralist from the Melquain Jatelle Anderson Foundation, a Brooklyn nonprofit dedicated to fighting against gun violence through education.

In addition to being able to paint the murals, the students also received $600 stipends for their work

The foundation was founded by Michelle Barnes-Anderson and is named after her son, who was shot and killed in 2017 at the Farragut Houses at the age of 27. The organization was founded in her son’s memory and also to raise awareness around gun violence, she said.

“My son is gone; I don’t have any children left; and I wasn’t finished loving him," Barnes-Anderson said. "So I need to pour the love I have for him into somebody else.”

Khadedra Hall, chief financial officer of the foundation and Melquain’s aunt, said she and Barnes-Anderson were excited to help put together the mural project in Fort Greene because of its proximity to the place where Melquain was killed.

Renard Kelley stands in front of two murals
Professional muralist Renard Kelley stands in front of two murals he helped students at Fort Greene Preparatory Academy paint. Kelley was paired with 20 students at the school to design the murals by the Melquain Jatelle Anderson Foundation, a Brooklyn nonprofit dedicated to fighting against gun violence through education. Photo: Will Fritz

“We try to do a lot of things in the Farragut-Fort Greene area, so we were excited, happy, over the roof, that we were able to do our first mural project right here at this school,” Hall said. “We wanted to come together for the children to create a mural that represented them. So this is not something we came up with … This is a design that came directly from the children who are here. They designed, painted and came up with the concept.”

The five murals—which feature things like a musical note and a version of Fort Greene Preparatory Academy's seal—replace old ones that previously occupied the same space in the cafeteria.

“I feel like the new murals are a fresh start for new incoming students, the new seventh and eighth graders and all that,” said Mia Garrido, a 7th grader who took part in painting two of the murals.

The muralist, 53-year-old Renard Kelley of Freeport, Long Island, said he worked with the kids on concepts for the murals and was there to help them every step of the way.

He said the question posed to the students who participated in the project was “what keeps you balanced?.”

Anabel German (left) and Ariyanna Norris (right), two students at Fort Greene Preparatory Academy, excitedly pull the protective plastic off one of the new murals at their school, which they participated in designing and painting. Photo: Will Fritz

“I just posed the question, what exactly is it that the kids do to keep themselves balanced, to keep them away from the negativity, so the ideas that we came up with were education and social media and music and things of that nature,” he said.

Fort Greene Preparatory’s principal, Paula Lettiere, said she hopes the unveiling serves as a bright spot after a tough few pandemic years.

“We’ve been through three dark years and this program was started through something that was dark, and it has brought us here to a moment of celebration to lift our souls and lift our spirits and lift our children into doing great things in the community,” Lettiere said.