ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The teens tell me they haven’t personally been affected by gun violence, but they all know someone who has.
Which is, upon their further reflection, being personally affected by gun violence.
“It’s a big issue,” Savannah Fairbanks, 16, says. “I know a girl who got shot by her boyfriend. She died.”
Another teen knows about a 14-year-old who killed herself with her father’s gun.
Others talk about relatives who lost loved ones to guns in wrong hands. Classmates. Neighbors. Friends of friends. Other high school students across the country. Reporters in newsrooms. Moviegoers in theaters. Teens at parties.
“I’ve seen the way when someone dies how it has a big impact on those who knew and loved them,” says Daryllen Ray, 16. “The person who got shot is not the only victim.”
And so these seven Bernalillo High School students came together this week to create a mural that expresses their message of hope, peace and cease fire.
The Murals to End Gun Violence, a project of New Mexicans to Prevent Gun Violence, was begun two years ago and has since produced four murals, each created by students at different schools: Santa Fe, Capital, Pojoaque Valley and Española Valley high schools.
Bernalillo High’s is the fifth and the first one that will be portable. It’s constructed on five wooden panels, each 6 feet tall. When fitted together, the mural will span 20 feet across.
Although locations for the mural are still in the works, likely sites will be in courthouses, schools and community centers.
“The murals offer our youth the opportunity to communicate their thoughts and ideas on an issue that sadly affects their lives every day,” says Miranda Viscoli, co-president of New Mexicans to Prevent Gun Violence. “They are done with the lockdown drills, the violence, the shootings. For some of these kids, there are few other avenues where they can talk about how gun violence affects them.”
The Bernalillo High students, most of whom are from pueblos, began working on the project in April under the tutelage of Warren Montoya, owner of Rezonate Art.
“The process begins with coming together, meeting the kids, having conversations of what gun violence is and what their thoughts on it are,” Montoya says. “They come with their ideas, and from there we figure out how to assemble it all as a collage with unifying concepts.”
One of the few rules: No images of guns.
“We don’t want to bring guns into the schools, so we also don’t want guns painted into the mural,” Viscoli says.
Finally, this week the students began drawing their concepts on the boards, putting in about seven hours each day at the Tamaya Wellness Center at Santa Ana Pueblo, a space offered to the students by pueblo Gov. Glen Tenorio. The project is expected to be completed Sunday.
I arrive Thursday, minutes before the first brush stroke of color goes on – a buttery yellow for the flowers sprinkled in the hair of a young woman whose image is the focal point. She wears a T-shirt that reads “Teach Peace.” Her extended left arm is shadowed by a dove in flight as bullets fall from her hand, each bullet imprinted with a different word: Ignorance. Hate. Anger. Jealousy. Revenge.
Her right arm is wreathed in banners, one that reads “Dedicated to the lives lost to gun violence.”
At a far corner of the mural, Billy Selestewa, 16, draws the last strokes of an hourglass filled with bullets falling onto a tombstone. At another corner, Jamon Sandoval, 17, finishes a half-skeleton figure holding a choice between a rose and a bullet.
“You decide who you are,” he says.
Guns, the youths say, are not necessarily bad – it’s how they are misused, how they fall into the wrong hands, how they inflict violence that is bad.
“Everyone can see this issue in their own stories, their own way,” says Chaunte Aguilar, 17. “We’re just saying that the violence caused by the misuse of guns affects all of us.”
Once the mural is finished, the work for some is not done. Latisha Dewahe, 16, has already expressed an interest is joining with Viscoli’s group to lobby the state Legislature for a child access prevention law to hold gun owners accountable for the safe storage of firearms. A similar bill died in committee in 2015.
“I’m hoping that the work we have started here brings more light on the subject,” Dewahe says, her brush bringing life to the first yellow flower on the mural. “I’m nervous, but I’ll get started.”
UpFront is a front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Joline at 823-3603, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @jolinegkg. Go to www.abqjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.