Portraits for peace
Artist hopes murals brightening entrance to August Town will foster positive growth
James ‘Jimmy’ Stewart believes his paintings tug at the heart of criminals bent on mayhem, causing them to reflect on the potential implications of their errant ways. And in the crime-torn community of August Town, St Andrew, which for years has...
James ‘Jimmy’ Stewart believes his paintings tug at the heart of criminals bent on mayhem, causing them to reflect on the potential implications of their errant ways.
And in the crime-torn community of August Town, St Andrew, which for years has suffered from gun violence reportedly fuelled by gangsters living in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom, he is in a race against time to create some 30-plus life-changing murals by March 15.
Already, he has completed about 12 pieces, with Bob Marley, Capleton, Louise Bennett-Coverley, and hometown icon Sizzla among the mix, on a perimeter wall of neighbouring University of the West Indies (UWI) at the entrance to the community.
There is no crime plan, Stewart argues, that can pull the youths away from gangs than the legacy the icons have left, especially that of Marcus Garvey, whose image is among those completed.
“If the people were following the message for a long time, maybe the mindset would be better off,” Stewart, a resident of nearby Tavern, posited.
“Marcus Garvey told us a long time to uplift ourselves,” he added.
“These legends teach us we have to educate ourselves, even if we don’t get the chance when we are youth because the struggles are hard. If we don’t learn to think for ourselves, another man going to think for us and he will always be our enslaver,” argued Stewart.
Brute force will not reach the youth, he posited, pointing to a lack of inspiration and employment as the main catalysts for change.
Stewart’s endeavours are funded by the Jamaica Social Investment Fund (JSIF), which said the project is part of a broader community-development initiative aimed at improving access to roads in the community, bolstering parks and green spaces, improving sanitation, and ensuring safe passage for students.
The murals fall under the initiative to improve parks and green spaces at a cost of $12 million. Solid waste disposal improvement will account for $5 million, and bolstering infrastructure – roads, water services, sidewalks, and drainage, as well as improving two schools – is projected to cost $220 million.
“Many of the youngsters lack positive role models. They lack vision as to how they can realise their dreams, and having the murals of such persons who have overcome many odds in their various fields will certainly inspire the youths,” reasoned Mona Suho, senior manager of social development at JSIF.
“Just the fact that they, the youngsters, especially the children, can walk past it, they can say, ‘They did it, so I can do it, too’,” said Suho, adding that the Government of Jamaica’s integrated Community Development Project II also provides employment to youths from the community, who undertake all the work themselves.
“We are also working with the police with community security to bolster the youth clubs and the curfew monitoring programme. The HEART Trust is looking at the skills training and certification programme,” she said.
Last week, residents said that except for domestic altercations that remain problematic for the police, crime in August Town is on the lull.
The last incidents included last month’s shootings of two men, who they said fired at each other on Bryce Hill Road in the community. Police have arrested both and recovered two firearms.
The recent murder of August Town-born social media commentator Nigel ‘Meech’ Walford was also on residents’ lips, although that incident occurred in Spanish Town, St Catherine.
But long away from the 2016 murder-free year, they note that anything can break at any point, and so they remain on alert.