PS 295’s student participants worked with Groundswell for 14 weeks during the pandemic. They created an inspiring piece that expressed their refusal to accept injustice and their vision for a better world; they did this with the belief that the adults running their school shared their values. In response, their school leaders destroyed their work, in haste and without notification to any of the parties involved.
This action and the attempt to hide it from participating families and staff was a gross betrayal. Our 5th grade Black, Asian, White, Jewish, Latinx children sought to leave a message of hope with their schoolmates; their voices were silenced, and their efforts trashed. When given the opportunity to amplify student voices and lean into their discomfort, the perpetrators instead chose to inflict harm. They did not protect our children or our community.
The Department of Education has offered inadequate and simplistic amends, but this egregious incident has surfaced families’ stories of racism, homophobia, transphobia, and other forms of systemic harm under these administrators’ leadership, and we cannot and will not allow this to continue.
In the words of one LGBQT+, Asian, and mixed-race family, their daughter’s “art in this project reflects her world—an eye seeing the rainbow of people in our lives. Sadly, the actions toward this mural match the intolerance we experienced at PS 295. Everyone needs to understand how deep the biases are, why the mural was destroyed in the first place, and why change needs to happen at the most fundamental levels. Our fight remains consistent with the way this mural was treated.”
Another artist’s parent explained, “This frustration is sparked not just by the removal of a beautiful and thoughtful piece of artwork created by our children, but also because of what its removal and disposal symbolizes in the greater context of community, power structure, and the continuation of systemic and institutional racism in our schools during such a pivotal moment of consciousness. It was a deliberate action motivated by white rage, anti-blackness, anti-queerness, and internalized racism.”
The students at PS 295, New Voices, and District 15 deserve leadership equal to the challenges of our time, including the struggle for equity and justice. The time has come for accountability, reparations, and a new beginning.
Photo permission given by Groundswell
Teaching Artist: Lexy Ho-Tai
Youth Artists: Hollis Albaeck, Kai Gelber-Higgins, Jasmine Gellizeau-Ip, Luna Quiñonez, Seth Daniel-Scherz, Darby Young
Special thanks to: Council Member Carlos Menchaca, New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, New York State Council on the
Arts, The Pierre and Tana Matisse Foundation