CHATHAM — Thanks to a group of youths, the outside walls of a South Side Garrett Popcorn store are now decorated with two murals.
On Monday, a mural designed by students attending Kenwood Academy and Simeon Career Academy high schools was unveiled at Garrett Popcorn, 737 E. 87th St. Depicted on the mural are the faces of youths who worked on the project this summer as part of an After School Matters program.
"I learned different paint colors from working on the mural. I have a better appreciation for art after designing this mural," said William Holmes, a 16-year-old Kenwood junior who lives in Beverly.
One teen artist said he hopes to someday become a graphic designer.
"I love to draw and design things. Working on this mural was a good project for me because it allowed me to share my talents with the community," said Asanta Cunningham, a 16-year-old senior at Simeon. "As a young person I think giving back to the community is key."
Brother and sister Anna and Nelson Schneider, who attend Kenwood and live in Hyde Park, said they would like to see more teenagers take advantage of free programs offered at After School Matters.
"With so much fighting going on out here, projects like the mural provide a positive alternative for teenagers. It's too bad more teenagers choose not to get involved," said Anna Schneider, 17. The mural project "helped my design skills a lot. I have wanted to be a graphic designer since I was 10 and now I am finally getting the chance to do what I love."
Nelson Schneider, 15, attributed his improved problem-solving ability to his involvement in the project.
"To problem-solve, you need critical-thinking ability. And with a mural you are dealing with a lot of colors and images that you must decide which ones to use," Nelson said. "And that takes critical thinking to figure out."
Rahmaan “Statik” Barnes, a local artist and Chatham resident, coached students.
"I love working with teenagers. Each year, students help me design a mural," said Barnes, 32, who worked with students from Kenwood on the store's other mural, which depicts black art and was completed in 2012.
Joining the youths at the unveiling was Lance Cody, CEO of Garrett Popcorn Shops, Mary Ellen Caron, CEO of After School Matters, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th), whose ward includes the Garrett Popcorn store.
"What more can you say other than job well done," Cody said. "We [Garrett Popcorn] hope to provide opportunities for youth looking to give back to the community."
The mayor said it was projects like the mural that drove him to increase funding for youth programs in the city by 30 percent.
"Long after this mural is unveiled, their hard work will live on for the benefit of the community," Emanuel said just before the unveiling. "Let this mural serve as an example of what our youth can do when they channel their energy in a positive matter."
Sawyer added that he is proud of all the youths who worked on the mural and encouraged After School Matters to continue providing opportunities for young people, especially during the summer and especially for youths in urban neighborhoods.
"This is what communities need more of if we are ever going to reverse this trend of youth violence," Sawyer said. "The unveiling of this mural makes me even more proud to be the alderman for Chatham."