Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz and Assemblywoman Nily Rozic joined students of Townsend Harris High School in Kew Gardens Hills on Monday, April 12, for the unveiling of a mural design and painting project led by Queens artist Anthony Posada.
The first-ever community-created Inclusive Safety Mural is a project by genEquality, a research-driven nonprofit organization focused on activating equality and inclusion through art and culture. The Inclusive Safety Mural Series (ISMS) brings together artists, students, educators and residents to collaboratively design and create murals that promote inclusive safety, according to the organization. The initiative’s first five murals — one in each borough of New York City — are being unveiled throughout April, which is Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month.
“It’s been very moving to witness how the students and artists have grappled with what inclusive safety means for their community, and how to visually represent it through art,” said Sophia Lajaunie, director of the Inclusive Safety Mural Series. “At a time when violence and harassment are on the rise and after all the hardships of this past year, we hope these murals inspire a genuine sense of belonging, inclusion, and well-being in their communities and across New York City.”
Veronica York, assistant principal of PPS, Music and Art at Townsend Harris High School, thanked genEquality, teachers and Posada for his artistic vision and sculpting ideas into art, and also their “talented and optimistic” students who York says are going to change the world.
“We took on this project with great enthusiasm because it speaks to who we are: Townsend students identify as 65 percent female, over 50 percent first generation, 52 percent economically disadvantaged, and we speak over 40 different languages,” York said. “In this diversity, we all deserve to be seen. Inclusion is the only way forward, and this mural tells all students: ‘We see you! We celebrate you! You belong here!’”
According to Posada, co-creating the mural with the students was an incredible experience that allowed them to collectively meditate on the themes of safety and community while working to depict those through art.
“In times of social unrest when discrimination and hate are on the rise, projects like the Inclusive Safety Mural Series from genEquality are necessary to disrupt the narrative of pessimism and despair,” Posada said. “Art provides a restorative and healing energy that promotes positive change by uniting us, by empowering us and by helping us take a stand against violence to inspire inclusion and community.”
As an organization, genEquality has always been deeply committed to ending gender-based and identity-based harassment and violence, as they have been especially concerned about reports of rising harassment and violence since the COVID-19 pandemic began, according to Sherry Hakimi, executive director of genEquality.
“We felt compelled to create a program that leverages creativity and community to change our culture towards that of Inclusive Safety — a culture in which you feel safe no matter what you look like, where you’re from, and how you identify,” Hakimi said. “That’s the spirit in which the Inclusive Safety Mural Series was born, and in which we hope to scale it throughout NYC and nationally.”
Katz and Rozic commended Hakimi and Lajaunie for bringing together local artists, educators, students and residents to creatively represent their shared commitment to the value of an inclusive community.
“As Queens district attorney, it is my responsibility to protect and seek justice for survivors of gender-based violence. It is inspiring that the first installation of the citywide Inclusive Safety Mural Series is in the borough of Queens at Townsend Harris High School and fitting that we set the bar for murals to come throughout the city,” Katz said. “This mural is a reminder Queens is stronger and safer when we stand together.”
Meanwhile, Rozic said she is incredibly proud of the way Queens showed up to stand in solidarity with those who have been harmed and targeted because of identity-based and gender-based ignorance and violence over the past year.
“Today’s mural unveiling at Townsend Harris High School is another testament to our commitment to inclusivity, and I thank genEquality and artist Anthony Posada for working with our local community to send a message that hate has no place here,” Rozic said.