On Tuesday, July 23, a group of teenagers from Camp Best Friends, their counselors, and an artistic team from the Creatives Project gathered for one last time at Perkerson Park in Capitol View to finish the first phase of the Do-Good Anti-Littering Initiative, an arts-based project and education campaign that had them joining forces over seven weeks this summer.
The anti-litter initiative is an ongoing effort that will continue through the fall, under the direction of Neda Abghari, executive director of the Creatives Project, an arts nonprofit involved in community outreach projects in various Atlanta neighborhoods. The Capitol View project is the recipient of Creative Loafing's Do Good Campaign fundraising and a matching donation from sponsor Home Depot Foundation. The effort began earlier this year and was initially reported in CL's Neighborhood Guide issue.
The first phase of the project included young people participating in "The Summer of Service Learning Teen Leadership Camp," part of Camp Best Friends, a program sponsored by the City of Atlanta, according to Perkerson Park site director, Stephanie Wallace. The teens created artwork using recycled trash, designed and distributed anti-litter fliers to nearby residents, and came up with the campaign logo, "A Clean Life is a Dream Life: Keep Our Neighborhood Clean." A local graphic designer from Good, Clean Design, an agency that focuses on the nonprofit sector, guided the kids through the process of logo design, message delivery, and branding. The logo and its earth/leaf design will be used in future promotional materials and streetwear.
At their first meeting, the campers met with Masud Ashley Olufani (aka MAO), one of the Creatives Project's resident artists/instructors, who showed them examples of various artworks using "trash." Olufani, who has an MFA and is a SCAD graduate, is a mixed-media sculptor. He says the biggest hurdle was getting the kids engaged. "But seeing their progress, now they own it. They want it to look a certain way, the want it to be neater. They're making creative decisions."
Last week, as one group of kids headed out with leaders toward Metropolitan Parkway to distribute anti-litter fliers to residents in nearby Capitol View Manor, another group remained behind at Perkerson Park's Recreation Center to finish up the art project.
Inside the rec center, kids sprawled out on the floor. Surrounding them were art materials and supplies to create their work: yarn (for the grass), fabric (leaves), dark construction paper (for bird cutouts), and blue chalk (sky). In addition, they brought assorted recycled materials from home, including yogurt cups, egg cartons, soda cans, water bottles, and the edge of a Skittles wrapper.
As they put the finishing touches on their artwork, someone's MP3 player provides a mix of gospel, R&B, and pop: "Break Every Chain" by Tasha Cobbs, "Foolish" by Ashanti, and "Countdown" by Beyoncé. Girls playfully mess with each other in snappy exchanges: "Y'all be cautious with that glue gun," "You shoulda made the bird on the outside," "Get done with this! You the slow one!"
Among them is Shakedrick Collier. The 17-year-old says she hates the chalk - "It's messy" - and admits she burned herself with the glue gun. But she likes the creating process and the teamwork.
Collier, who wants to study to become a clinical psychologist, says the Skittles wrapper is a tribute to Trayvon Martin. She gets quiet when she says she attended recent protests and rallies after the Zimmerman verdict was announced.
Speaking about the summer project, Collier says, "It's been a good experience. It gave me a different view about littering, that you can create something with trash. It's not just something you dump in the streets."
Ashley Westbrook, 14, says she's never worked on anything like this before but enjoyed being creative. She says, "The biggest challenge is working with other people, getting different people to make decisions. It's taught me to work with others and be patient."
Around lunchtime on this final day of the art-making project, the glue sticks run out. This isn't good news for Kenyoshia Thomas, 17, who is putting down green yarn on cardboard for the "grass." She is getting ready to start her senior year of high school and says she enjoyed being "so creative."
"There should be more activities like this to get people involved," she says.
Off to the side, Damien Payne watches the group. He's the community facility manager for Perkerson Park, a green gem that includes some 50 acres serving the Capitol View, Capitol View Manor, and Sylvan Hills neighborhoods. Payne says he's proud of the camaraderie the kids have built, especially as they're all from different neighborhoods.
Some of the kids have gotten very close, he says, and he jokes about the girls not wanting to get their nails dirty at the beginning of the art project. He says they're learning life skills here and he appreciates the focus on community.
"It starts at home because this is where you stay, this is where your sense of pride comes from," Payne says. "You have to start somewhere."
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