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African Community Center Summer Scholars Project

In starting the project at the African Community Center, we spent time getting to know the center, the people who use it and how it is used. We began by simply being at the center and helping with whatever needed to be done. We answered phones, met people who came and cleaned the donation closet. Yaka, the director, brought us to visit many of the families that use the center and we talked to both the refugees and Yaka about the experiences these individuals had coming to the United States; the difficulties they faced in Africa, on their journey to the U.S. and continue to face today. We also did research about Africa and the refugee experience. Soon we began teaching ESL and art classes and got to know many of the families quite well. The next step was to use the knowledge we gained of the center to recreate the interior of the center. We hoped to make it more friendly, inviting and useful for all those who use it. We repainted the walls and created interactive maps of Africa and the United States to help individuals have a fun way to learn and talk about where they came from and where they are now. In addition, we rearranged the rooms to create a “kids’ room,” allowing the adults to focus on their classes. The kids’ room was then repainted with a sunset and the silhouette of an African landscape and animals. This allows the kids to talk about Africa and reminds them of where they came from. The silhouette is also painted in chalk paint, encouraging the children to interact with each other by drawing directly on the walls. We documented the entire process through photos and film with the hopes of using these materials to inform others of the center’s vital programs and their importance to the greater Grand Rapids community through the media and other contacts.
"Mural, Painting and Art Education Project with African Refugees and African Community Center of West Michigan"