GRAND CROSSING — Cast members Phor Brumfield and Van Johnson from VH1’s “Black Ink Crew” shared with Hirsch High School students Monday the importance of finishing school and how far art can take them.
Johnson grew up in Auburn Gresham; Brumfield grew up in Avalon Park. The two explained to their young audience how they turned their passion for art led to their current careers.
“I’ve been drawing for as long as I can remember,” Brumfield said.
The Chicago-based reality show focuses on the daily operations and issues that occur in 9MAG, a black-owned tattoo shop at 2150 S. Canalport Ave. Season two premiered in October.
Hirsch administrator Briana Bryson said she invited the cast to speak to the students because she wanted them to see what they can do with an art background.
“The kids don’t really appreciate art, and they don’t know the extent to where they can take it,” she said. “I thought it was important that these guys grew up on the South Side, they’re from the same hood, and they made it. They overcame obstacles and ended up on TV.”
VH1’s “Black Ink Crew” cast members Phor Brumfield and Van Johnson visits Hirsch High School. [Photo/Andrea V. Watson]
About 80 students filed into the auditorium to listen to the tattoo artists share how they broke into the industry and encourage the kids to stay focused on whatever it is they’re passionate about.
Questions included, “How much do you charge?”
Johnson said $200 an hour.
Others wanted to know what inspired them.
Johnson, who said he always took art seriously, told the students a mentor suggested that he give tattooing a try because he was already gifted at drawing and painting. He said he had been painting shoes and designing clothes for years.
His path wasn’t easy though, he said. He spent some time in jail, and when he got out, he wanted to help take care of his family.
“Art skills never die out, so I jumped into tattooing,” Johnson said. “It afforded me to be able to take care of my family.”
Brumfield also started out drawing and designing shoes and shirts.
“The tattoo thing just kind of fell into my lap,” he said. “I’ve always been a crafty, artist type of dude.”
He said he almost didn’t graduate from high school and that college wasn’t for him. He knew he didn’t like working for people, so he forged a career path that let him work for himself.
Both guests stressed the importance of at least finishing high school and staying focused.
“I’m rooting for you all, because I see the potential,” Brumfield said, before delivering a sober reminder: “People [are] getting killed out here. I just lost a friend. Tomorrow isn’t promised.”
The students said they appreciated the guests' honesty.
Beyonca Mason, 17, said she loved their energy and the relatable stories they shared.
“One guy said he didn’t like school, and I don’t like it either, but he said he made it, so it encouraged me to do more things with my life,” she said.
Student Sabrina Eseon, 17, said she appreciated the guests' “realness.”
“They spoke the truth, and they weren’t conceited at all,” she said, adding that she feels more encouraged about her future as long as she stays focused in school.
Principal Larry Varn said it’s always a positive experience when young people can interact with successful people who have come from where they are now.
“Even though they didn’t attend Hirsch, they came from the community here,” he said. “So I’m, one, grateful they were able to come back and give to the community that gave so much to them; and, two, I’m grateful that our students had the opportunity, to see, to hear what can be possible even though you come from Grand Crossing.”
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