Denver’s Bruce Randolph School uses art as a restorative practice

DENVER — A group of students at Bruce Randolph School in Denver are putting the finishing touches on a special mural that’s served as an artistic outlet for the past few months.

“I actually established a relationship with GRASP (Gang Rescue and Support Project) last year just needing to reach out for resources that they offered and wanting to connect some of our students with them,” said Joseph Kidane, Bruce Randolph School Dean of Culture.

Kidane said this year, the school had a group of students, mostly juniors, who teachers were “kind of a little bit frustrated with,” given that they had an inclination towards graffiti.

“And so this was kind of my way of connecting them with a different type of outlet. Why not just do art on the wall and not get in trouble… it’s more of a restorative response.”

Kidane said GRASP helped him connect with artist Ulises Villa, who had experience with graffiti art.

“Mr. Ulises has really left a really positive impact on them,” Kidane said. “Mr. Ulises is here to teach them how graffiti skills can transfer into larger scale mural art, and can honestly be a business. You can kind of develop your own brand behind that, which is what Mr. Ulises has done, personally in his own life.”

Villa said working with the students has been a fulfilling experience.

“The kids here are really great. We met with them a couple of times beforehand, they were involved in the design of the whole mural,” Villa said. “I was very fortunate to be connected with Mr. Eddie from GRASP who was the the brain trust behind all this. And he basically brought me in, because there was a need where he wanted to do a project and he wanted me to go ahead and help him work with the kids to bring that to fruition.”

The mural is full of symbolism, including a rose representing loss and the not-so-subtle phrase: Stop the Violence.

“The Stop the Violence message, I think really just came about due to the fact that we had lost some students here in the last couple of years to violence. Last year, we lost a 12-year-old student. And so this is kind of a way of not necessarily commemorating them, but just sending the message to our whole school community, right of like, stop the violence,” Kidane said.

Eddie Gonzales, a youth violence prevention specialist for GRASP who helped coordinate the project, said projects like these can make a big difference.

GRASP, he said, has been around for about 30 years. Their mission? Support youth in lots of different ways and be a support to their community.

“This project here, we had some individuals that we wanted to come in and work with, we saw that they have a lot of potential and their artistic skills. And we wanted to be able to enable them to use those artistic skills in a positive way, to not only to help change the environment of the school and the atmosphere of the school, but also honor just some of their culture.”

Bruce Randolph School 11th grade students Luis de Luna Villalpondo and Alejandro Martinez Moreno said their participation in the project has been positive especially while learning from Villa.

“He will tell us there’s other things we could do aside from like, hanging out with gang members or who’s around us,” Martinez-Moreno said. “There’s another way to make money on the side and start a business.”

Luis said he’s enjoyed working with his friends.

“It’s been very good. A lot of getting to know each other and stuff like that,” de Luna Villalpondo said. “It like, gives you joy.”

Martinez-Moreno said he hopes the project shows the community who they are.

“We’re not bad kids here. So we’re just chillin’, just trying to live our life, get out of high school, get into college,” Martinez-Moreno said.

Kidane said since the project began in October, none of the student artists have faced disciplinary action for graffiti.

The school will officially unveil within the next few weeks.

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