“We Cannot Walk Alone” a mural on the side of 284 Broadway across from the Fire station, was created by the artist, Kari Percival, working with very young children who came together at a pre-pandemic Martin Luther King (MLK) Day event in January 2020, coordinated by the JCC Greater Boston. Stephanie Marlin-Curiel, JCC Metro North Family Engagement Coordinator, has created a number of social action events for families with young children over the years, reflecting the social conscience of many parents in the Arlington-Cambridge-Somerville area. With the increase in hate speech and threats of violence against minorities, including arson at an Arlington Rabbi’s home, Stephanie had a personal interest in creating art that would unite our community in a visible defiance of hatred.
At the event, children were first invited to respond to the prompt “What does peace look like?” by filling blank white mural paper with pictures. A reading of a children’s book about MLK led to discussions of how they would like to be treated by others, the Golden Rule, what you can do when you see people being treated badly or sitting by themselves, and how we are stronger and braver together. With this framework, the children were ready to start painting. Artist, Kari Percival, famous in Arlington for her images created for the Fox Festival parade, was a natural choice for a collaborator and lead artist. She chose Tyvek paper used to wrap houses, and therefore strong and weather resistant, as the canvas.
This project also needed someone experienced in working with young children to figure out a way for children ages 3-6 to use their own creativity rather than just being asked to color a section. Kari instructed the children on easy ways to make a person or a bird, which Kari took home to cut out and attach to the mural. Kari and Stephanie selected the MLK quote, “We Cannot Walk Alone” to be writ large on an image of “the mountain” and then the children’s incredibly diverse group of figures in all shapes and colors were placed standing hand in hand across the mountain, while their birds filled the sky.
When the pandemic hit, plans to install the mural on the side of the Ready, Set, Kids! Building at 284 Broadway, where the JCC ran classes and events, were put on hold. By July, the JCC had to give up its space and Ready, Set, Kids! soon followed and closed. But after a summer of protests against the string of black lives lost in brutal and unjust attacks by police, the mural depicting people of all races and backgrounds standing together went from a wish to a reality, and took on new relevance. The building owners must have felt the same way as they welcomed the installation of the mural in October 2020 with the support and sponsorship of the Arlington Commission for Arts and Culture.