Watch: Students Empowered As They See Themselves And Their Lives Turned Into Art

Watch: Students Empowered As They See Themselves and Their Lives Turned Into Art

The potential of art to bring about profound change is undeniable. The visible emotional reactions of these six students, most of whom were moved to tears, as they witnessed the unveiling of their portraits, serve as a testament to this transformative power.

For Anais Hernandez, a 16-year-old from Los Angeles, the experience made her feel empowered and confident, asserting that the portrait truly represented her identity. This was not always the case for Hernandez, who had been a victim of bullying during her time in middle school. The other selected students who had their portraits created by renowned pop artist Jason Mecier also had their own struggles to overcome. Mecier’s artistic style involves utilizing everyday items, often sourced from the subjects’ own lives, to create visually stunning representations.

A non-profit organization called Communities in Schools, which places mentors and social service coordinators in schools to assist struggling students, sought to help these young individuals recognize the beauty within themselves and within the ordinary objects that define their essence.

Each of the student participants has faced significant adversity and loss, ranging from the death of siblings to the displacement of their families and the destruction caused by hurricanes Katrina and Harvey. Many of these students bear burdens that surpass their tender ages, and the intervention of a supportive mentor through the Community in Schools program has made a crucial difference in their ability to navigate these challenges while succeeding in their education.

The portraits have embarked on a nationwide journey and will be exhibited on May 1 at the Newseum in Washington, D.C., as part of a Communities in Schools forum focusing on restorative justice and school discipline.

To explore an interactive presentation showcasing the creation of the portraits, peruse Q&A sessions with the students, and learn more about the mosaic project, visit the dedicated website titled "What We Are Made Of." Witness the moment when the students behold their portraits for the first time and listen to their personal stories.

Nasje Adams, a resident of Chicago, Illinois, speaks candidly about her struggles with self-esteem, expressing how she once believed she was not attractive enough to make friends or gain acceptance. However, thanks to the guidance of a compassionate adult who introduced her to a group called "My Black Is Beautiful," Adams was able to rebuild her self-esteem and confidence. She now imparts a message to females of all ages, emphasizing their inherent beauty.

David Brambila, hailing from Federal Way, Washington state, recounts his family’s financial challenges following his father falling ill and losing his job. Witnessing his parents’ immense struggles, Brambila recognized the need for an alternative source of income which compelled him to find work at a young age. Summer break after sixth grade led him to a job painting houses. Brett, his mentor, became a significant source of inspiration, pushing him to prioritize his education in order to secure a better future for himself and provide support to his family. Brambila’s chosen field of study is architectural design.

Icetria Greene, residing in Houston, Texas, recalls the devastation caused by Hurricane Harvey, which resulted in a two-month hiatus from school. Upon returning, Greene found herself burdened with the task of catching up academically, while also feeling preoccupied with her family’s housing situation and her mother’s prospects for progress. In this tumultuous period, her mentor from Communities in Schools provided invaluable emotional support and material assistance, supplying her with clothing and school supplies. Greene remarks on her own resilience, acting as a pillar of strength for others, but highlights the importance of having someone to confide in.

Anais Hernandez, based in Los Angeles, California, shares her determination to break free from her history of bullying as she entered high school. Recognizing that her lack of confidence made her vulnerable, she embarked on a journey of self-discovery during the summer. Hernandez credits her CIS mentor as a reliable source of support and reveals the strong bond they have formed. Through her portrait, Hernandez hopes others will see her strength and self-love.

Joseph Manzanarez, calling Charleston, South Carolina, home, is a resilient individual who has overcome numerous obstacles. His experiences have shaped his unwavering work ethic, and he draws inspiration from his father, who faced illness and unemployment. Observing his parents’ struggles has motivated Manzanarez to obtain a job at a young age. He also praises his mentor, whose involvement helped ignite a passion for education within him. Manzanarez’s chosen field of study is architectural design.

The stories of these students serve as a testament to their resilience and the profound impact of mentorship through the Community in Schools program. Through art, these individuals have discovered their inner strength and have the opportunity to share their stories with the world.

My name is Yelle Warner and I live in Atlanta, Georgia.

Many things I come across serve as a reminder of my dear brother. I had the heartbreaking loss of my brother on July 7, 2017. He and I were inseparable, like two parts of a whole. I confided in him about things I would never share with anyone else. He was my refuge, my safe space. When he passed away, I found myself longing for solitude, not wanting to engage with anyone. All I desired was to isolate myself in the confines of my room.

However, there came a moment when I had an extensive conversation with my CIS mentor that brought about a significant change. She gave me the opportunity to pour my heart out, to express all that was eating me up inside. Initially, I was hesitant to open up because it felt incredibly difficult. But as time went on, I began to feel a positive shift within me. I can now speak about my brother without bursting into tears, though it is not easy. The ability to discuss it openly is a sign of progress.

Through spending ample time with my mentor, sharing my frustrations, and liberating my thoughts, my perspective on college completely shifted. She transformed my entire outlook on life.


  • ewanpatel

    I'm a 29-year-old educational bloger and teacher. I have been writing about education for about six years, and I have a B.A. in English from UC Santa Cruz. I also have a M.A. in English from San Francisco State University. I teach high school English in the Bay Area.