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Forest Park unveils anti-gang mural

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

After seven months of effort, the City of Forest Park unveiled its "Making it Happen" mural, during a ceremony Thursday near Kiwanis Stadium. The mural was painted by a small group of Forest Park High School students participating in the city's "Make it Happen" program, a youth anti-gang initiative.

Ellen M. Miller, an East Point-based artist who specializes in religiously-themed oil and pastel paintings, supervised the half dozen students, who began work on the mural in November of last year. The students incorporated their own public service and education-themed illustrations into the mural.

While inclement weather prolonged the completion of the project, Miller said the students showed commitment and determination.

"I feel good about it, especially since the kids stuck with it," said Miller. "We were only able to work weekends and on a lot of weekends, there was rain. In effect, it made a project that should have taken about two months take about seven months, but it was a labor of love."

Some of the students overcame personal battles to contribute their part to the mural. In November 2008 - the same month that Feliciano Garcia, 18, started work on the mural - he was shot in the back of the head during a drive-by shooting.

Garcia, a recent graduate of Forest Park High School, said the mural helped him through his recovery.

"I used to be really shy after I got shot," Garcia said. "I used to not want to come out into the open. I was still pretty bad [at the start of the mural]. I fell a couple of times. This project really helped me out.

"I'm just happy I could help my community look better," Garcia said. "I hope it motivates [young people] to get into more recreational things instead of being on the street."

Cindy Sellards, a counselor at Babb Middle School, was able to acquire a grant from Hamburger Helper, which funded the project. Ten gallons of primer and 15 gallons of paint were donated by Wal-Mart to create the mural, while many of the tools and painting supplies were donated by the Atlanta Community ToolBank.

Sellards, who counseled all of the students in the "Make it Happen" program, said the mural will serve as a positive example to other students, as well as to the greater community.

"If we can train the students when they are young to give back to their community, it can help," Sellards said. "I think that's so important because we are losing so many kids. I do know that all the kids here will have an impact on other kids. If we can use them to improve the community it will only get better."

Forest Park Mayor Pro Tempore Sparkle Adams, who created the "Make it Happen" program in 2007, saluted the students for their efforts.

"Our young ladies and gentlemen are beginning to realize that they can't sit back and let the school system do everything for them," Adams said. "Throw as much paint as you can on the canvas of your education. If you do, you will one day be in the position to help someone when they need your help to make it happen."