Manhattan Students Speak Out Against Discrimination and Violence Through Art

Social-action bench murals unveiled in East Harlem

| 09 Jun 2022 | 12:54

Students from six Manhattan public schools spoke out about community issues Wednesday at the unveiling of a set of new social-action themed bench murals.

Nearly 200 people attended the unveiling, which took place in Thomas Jefferson Park in East Harlem. The students themselves were the artists, and chose to tackle a wide variety of themes in their murals, ranging from gun violence to bullying to LGBT+ rights.

The murals were created as part of CEI Benchmarks, a city arts program which aims to inspire NYC public school students to speak out on major social issues they care about through painting topical murals throughout the city’s parks. The citywide Benchmarks program kicked off on May 26 at Washington Square Park. From June 3 to September 15, the rest of the murals will be unveiled.

The students hailed from Bea Fuller Rodgers School (IS 528), Isaac Newton Middle School for Math & Science, Jose Celso Barbosa School (PS 206), Horan School (PS M079), Robert F. Kennedy (PS M169) and The Island School (PS/MS 188).

“We focused on women’s rights, LGBTQ rights and Black Lives Matter,” said Island School students Amiyah Snead and Leanna Serrano. “We are concerned about people not being safe. The world judges thinking women should do certain things, LGBTQ should be “normal,” this isn’t right. Black lives matter because mostly Black people are getting killed over time. Maybe if people see this bench they will believe change is possible.”

“Our bench is about women’s rights and equal rights for all genders,” said student Alexander Blackstock from Jose Celso Barbosa PS 206. “We chose these issues because in the past there’s been big issues, disparities and aggressions towards some women in society, and in the present day this is how things continue to be. Women’s traits to be nice or nurturing is not always a positive thing because men throughout history have taken advantage of this and that’s not ok.”

Alexandra Leff, Creator of CEI Benchmarks and CEI Director of Arts Education said: “In this current climate, young people need a public platform to express themselves on current social issues in a constructive, creative, hands-on and powerful way, so they can join the conversation and make a difference.

“We are so proud of our students who have brought their passion and creativity and have taken on major issues in beautiful and powerful ways through their bench murals. Their messages for social change will inspire thousands of people this summer in our citywide parks exhibition.”

The exhibition can be seen in Thomas Jefferson Park, located at East 114th St. and Pleasant Avenue.