The ‘powerful’ meaning behind a new mural in Douglas Park
North Lawndale has left quite an impact on poet Roger Reeves’ life, and he is now ready to give back to the community that he calls home.
In a partnership with the David L. Hoyt Education Foundation and Chicago Poetry Center, Reeves was chosen to write a poem which will be used in a public art mural in Douglas Park. The mural, aptly named Word Play Way, will be painted on a sidewalk on the corner of California and Ogden avenues by the end of August.
The idea behind the interactive drawing is to have families, especially children, interact with each other to solve the puzzle. In Reeves’ case, certain words from his latest work, “Children, Listen,” would be highlighted in the giant word search, eliciting messages of hope, strength and positivity.
“I want young folks to feel,” said Reeves, who believes that art is the perfect outlet that allows people of all ages to think for and express themselves.
With a line like, “you must be the grass, you must grow wildly over the grass,” he yearned to "invoke the curiosity of children" and inspire them, along with others who come across the mural, to reach for their dreams and aspirations.
Claire Haasl, the foundation’s executive director, shared Reeves’ sentiment and added that she specifically wanted to not only collaborate with the poetry center, but to find the right poet, to lend a hand with this project. The installation of Word Play Way is the foundation’s second venture, with the first appearing in Lincoln Square.
“In a community such as North Lawndale where many things happen and much isn’t said, poetry and words are very powerful,” Haasl said.
Reeves, a former assistant professor of poetry at the University of Illinois at Chicago, lived in North Lawndale for six years, and in that time witnessed different events that helped him better understand the community and its people.
In 2016, Reeves penned his perspective on North Lawndale for New City titled “The Poet’s Gaze.” In it, he was open and candid about how “the police camp out in front of my house, following me when I leave to go to work or the grocery store or the gym or the lake …”
He recalled an incident where his girlfriend returned to their home from her daily run, only to find out she had just missed the drive-by shooting outside their place. Reeves countered those moments with quieter, simpler ones, where he thinks about how his daughter often played in Douglas Park or how activists and grassroots organizations are on the ground, meeting the needs of their community.
Coming into this particular West Side neighborhood, Haasl knew that she wanted to create something special and meaningful for the residents. More than that, she sought for their involvement.
As a part of her initiative, she sent out a survey, which asked residents what type of words they would like to see and how those words made them feel. Last month, Haasl held two community information sessions at the Homan Square Community Center and Douglas Park Fieldhouse. The next meeting will also be held at the Douglas Park Fieldhouse on Wednesday, July 25, at 6:30 p.m. For those interested in volunteering, the foundation is hosting a volunteer orientation Friday, July 27, from 4 to 5 p.m., at the Chicago Literary Alliance. These sessions are free, open to the public and include snacks.
34-year-old Andre Falcone, of North Lawndale also shared the importance of having this mural in his neighborhood. Falcone, who moved to Chicago from Europe with his wife a year ago, attended one of the meetings in late June.
“Children creating and connecting with the mural creates value in the community,” he said.
As the foundation and poetry center continue to work together on the Douglas Park mural, Haasl hopes this is a “beginning of a lasting relationship” with the North Lawndale community.
“I want to make learning a ‘pro-tool,’ create spaces, [and] eliminate barriers from learning,” Haasl said.
For more information on the Word Play Way mural at Douglas Park, visit David L. Hoyt Education Foundation or Chicago Poetry Center online. To learn about volunteer opportunities or updates on the mural, follow the David L. Hoyt Education Foundation on Facebook or Twitter.