Story URL:
Story Retrieval Date: 4/17/2015 12:25:10 PM CST

Top Stories

Will Houp/MEDILL

Painting a 'Welcome' sign at Sullivan High School for City Year's MLK Day event, the Ruiz sisters Anahi and Lisette, both 7, and Leah, 4, traveled almost two hours with their dad to reach the school.

Volunteers paint murals, help school rebrand on MLK Day

by Will Houp
Jan 21, 2014


Will Houp/MEDILL

Kansas City artist Phil Shafer works on the main mural in Sullivan High School. Shafer also painted the main mural at City Year's MLK Day event at Humboldt Park's Lafayette Elementary School last year.

The mural is startling: Six painted fists stretch toward the ceiling next to a wall-size Chicago flag and four words that stand as Sullivan High School’s new motto: Family, Integrity, Service and Tenacity.

These images were among many painted at Sullivan and Joyce Kilmer Elementary School on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

More than 800 volunteers descended on these two Rogers Park schools in a beautification effort that included cleaning storage rooms, mural painting, and building wooden flowerpots and benches. City Year, a partner of AmeriCorps, organized the event to help realize King’s dream.

Principal Chad Adams said Sullivan started faltering about 10 years ago and was put on probation. The improvement project is an opportunity for the school to rebrand itself. “We have had a bad perception in the community,” said Adams, who is in his first year at the high school. “When the neighborhood has suffered, the school has suffered.”

Sullivan ranks below the Chicago Public Schools’ average in ACT scores and graduation rates.

Adams said the school is on track to get off probation by next spring. Along with the mural of the fists, the principal’s office has created a new logo for Sullivan.

Volunteers who worked on school-improvement projects came from all over the city. Julia Harris, a student at the University of Illinois at Chicago, had the day off from classes and came up from the South Side after she heard about the opportunity from her co-workers at Starbucks. Harris, 19, painted yellow tigers along a hallway that connected to one of Sullivan’s gyms. “It’s cool to get a bunch of people together,” she said. “Even if I’m not part of Rogers Park, we’re all Chicagoans. It’s nice to know this will be here for a while.”

Quotes in yellow and blue colors from influential politicians, authors and celebrities lined the hallways inside Sullivan, and green quotes were painted on the walls in Kilmer. Volunteers also worked on school logos and “Welcome” signs.

Last year, the MLK Day of service was held at Humboldt Park’s Lafayette Elementary School, which was one of the 50 schools closed at the end of the 2013 school year.

City Year, an education-focused nonprofit, chose the Sullivan and Kilmer based on several factors. Travell Williams, who helped organize the projects, said their largest event of the year was chosen according to the schools’ needs and history in Rogers Park. It is the first time City Year has worked on two schools during the MLK Day event. “This place speaks to the diversity in Chicago,” said Williams, who is in his second year with City Year. “We want to activate these communities.”