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Bridging divides with art

Bridging divides with art
Students at Berkeley Middle School create artwork for new Berkeley Police Station in an attempt to heal fractured relationships in the community
By Charlotte Beard

At the beginning of the school year, Berkeley Middle School (BMS) students dedicated artwork they created to the new Berkeley Police Station at 5850 N Hanley Rd. in St. Louis County. Some of the students who were involved in the art project which took a full semester to complete, shared what birthed the dedication.
Ariyana Lee expressed, “A lot of people were asking us why would we do this? Why would [you] do something so nice for them? So, we had to explain to them, [it’s] to show that not all police officers are bad.”
Tamia Thomas added, “And we wanted to set a good example for people to give to the community and police officers because we don’t want the police officers to think that we hate them too, because everybody [does not] hate them.”
These seventh graders spoke about their commitment to the project. Their dedication to completing the artwork with excellence was expressed in their words as was shared by Je’Mera Johnson, “We thought we were going to mess up and we knew how important it was to Ms. Eastman, so we [were] trying our best.”
Sarah Eastman, art teacher, elaborated on the open dialogue she had with her students regarding the strain between the community and the police officers after the events in Ferguson. She also, shared the developments that led to the project.
“Well, from the very, very beginning, back in 2015 when Michael Brown was killed, we did a project in class back then with my students I had at that time. I had drawn a giant face of Michael Brown’s mama and her weeping and crying. The students made all the tear drops of her crying and weeping. We talked about trying to go forth and heal for the students. So, they made and collaged those tears. During our art show in December of 2015, she actually came to our art show…we presented it to her.”
Eastman went on to discuss the building of the new Berkeley police station.
“I was like, ‘OK,’ let’s take this a step further. Let’s do something that the students can do and donate to the police station in an artistic manner, to try and rebuild that relationship that has been really torn apart in our community.”
The artwork is made up of a backdrop of the United States flag in black in white, representative of the police station’s colors. Ariyana, Je’Mera and Tamia were key in the painting of the flag and helping Eastman with the arrangement. The flag is overlaid with a silver and blue shield representative of the police badge with a warrior helmet atop. There are approximately 150 3-dimensional feathers that extend out of both sides of the badge/shield representative of an angel and peace, which were created by about 50 students.
Jonathan Hinton, former BMS student, and responsible for the artistic detail of the badge/shield and helmet was not a student of Eastman’s when she approached him about working on the project.
“I like drawing a lot,” he stated. “In my free time, it’s one of my favorite hobbies. She knew this because the year before when I did have her class, we did a lot of art in there and she saw my drawings.”
Jonathan, who is now in high school, went on to share some of his perspective for working on the project, “It was refreshing to at least have some positivity between the community members and the police. I was on board with doing [the artwork] because I don’t really like seeing all the negativity and people not trusting the police.”
Jonathan expressed that being a part of the art project encouraged him to think even more favorably towards the police.
Officer Amir Dantzler Bey, BMS’ Resource Officer, hosted a small reception at the school for all of the students who were involved in the project following the Aug. 25 dedication. Also, in attendance was Police Chief Art Jackson, some members of the school district and parents of the participating students.
Dantzler Bey shared some of his involvement in the community, saying “Being the liaison for the police department and the schools, I feel that I’m trying to bridge the gap between community and police, just to let them know that if you want to know about what’s going on, you [must] talk to us. You can’t just assume that because something happened to a loved one in another area that all police are the same. It’s like all judges are not the same and all teachers are not the same.”
He went on to speak about the importance of everyone being judged on their own merits.
“I think that art piece and I think them building this new [police] station here in the community is a good tool, as well…the people feel close. They feel like the police station is right down the street. We can come down here and talk to them. By me being in the schools, I’m interacting with the parents in the community that I work for and I live in this community. I live here in Berkeley. Therefore, that gives me another opportunity to see the people when I go out. They go, ‘That’s the police officer that works over at the school.’ Or, ‘I’ve seen him working here. That’s Officer Bey….’ That’s a good feeling.”
A date is pending to officially hang the dedicated artwork in the Berkeley Police station.
CUTLINE: Photo courtesy Ferguson-Florissant School District Berkeley Middle School students in Sarah Eastman’s art class stand in front of artwork they created that will hang in the new Berkeley Police Station at 5850 N Hanley Rd.