Mural Painted by Slain High School Student Preserved Along Lakefront

By Benjamin Woodard on June 6, 2013 7:47am 

ROGERS PARK — A high school student who was shot and killed during a struggle over a handgun last year left something behind along Rogers Park's lakefront: A mural of Jesus, crowned in thorns.

Each year, on Father's Day weekend, hundreds of artists gather at Loyola Beach to paint over murals from years past as part of the Artists of the Wall Festival, first organized 20 years ago.

Terrance Johnson, 17, painted one of the murals — a few months before his death — at last year's festival.

Organizers decided to preserve Johnson's mural, which would have been whitewashed, as a memorial to his life and a testament against gun violence in Chicago.

We wanted to "bring to light the violence in the community and how fleeting life can be," said Mary Ann Pilet, who helped Johnson register for the festival last year.

Pilet said she attended the Rogers Park Presbyterian Church with Johnson and his family.

She requested that the mural be preserved for one more year and plans to add to it verses from one of Johnson's poems at this year's festival on June 15-16.

"He was an artist and he liked to write," she said of the high school senior who had attended the Chicago Math and Science Academy before his death in October.

School officials said he was living with his uncle, Charles Johnson, 53, when police found him inside their Rogers Park apartment with a bullet hole in his right cheek. Authorities later said he had been struggling over a handgun with a relative.

Charles Johnson was charged with weapons possession and unlawful use of a weapon as a felon.

School officials also said Johnson had hoped to attend the Art Institute.

Keith Lord, one of the original founders of the festival, said he and his neighbors were on his back deck brainstorming ways to clean up a stretch of the graffiti-splattered cement wall facing Lake Michigan when they came up with the idea for the festival.

"It's a unique and wonderful way to have the local community show their support for its members," Lord said of preserving Johnson's mural. "It’s a great way to help preserve his memory."

When Johnson was painting the mural, he consulted a sketch he brought in a notebook, Pilet said.

"He was quiet and reserved," she said, "but I could tell he was having a good time."

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