Students, Principal Stand Behind Mural Inside School

Students, Principal Stand Behind Mural Inside School
A mural painted last year inside Pocomoke High School was defended in the face of criticism. Submitted Photo

NEWARK – Connections of Pocomoke High School are speaking in support of a student mural following concerns voiced by some community members.

During last week’s Worcester County Board of Education meeting, two Pocomoke High School graduates and one current student defended a mural inside the school. The mural, which depicts raised fists with the words “Your Voice Matters,” has been called Marxist and divisive by some local residents.

“The truth is the mural is not anti anyone, it is for everyone,” Pocomoke High School graduate Kiely Wolff said. “It’s a reminder that every child has a voice that deserves to be heard.”

Wolff and others said they were voicing support for the mural after seeing negative comments about it on social media. Some have referred to the mural as Marxist while others have described it as divisive and intimidating. The website watchguards.org argues the mural conflicts with the school system’s bullying prevention policy.

Local resident Caryn Abbott has expressed concern about the mural at various public meetings.

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“This concerns me because it’s extremely divisive and rooted in Marxist ideology,” she said. “Any student that disagrees with it wouldn’t dare ‘speak up’ without having threats, verbal assaults or worse being sent their way.”

According to Pocomoke High School (PHS) Principal Jenifer Rayne, the mural was painted last year by members of the student group Speak Up with the help of artist in residence Lamont Hall, a PHS graduate. Members of Speak Up, which was created to celebrate diversity, got into a deep conversation about current events following the death of George Floyd, Rayne recalled.

“The students started talking about the importance of kids knowing regardless what’s going on in the world there is a place for them at Pocomoke High School,” she said. “Every student matters. They are valued.”

The teenagers designed a mural they felt represented every student at Pocomoke High.

“They decided they wanted to use the fist because in our generation a fist represents strength and solidarity,” she said.

The mural was completed in 2020 but just this fall became a topic of discussion when a photo of it was shared on social media. Wolff said she was upset to see it described as indoctrination on Facebook.

“There’s nothing partisan about love for every child,” she said. “There’s nothing partisan about telling a child that no matter their social placement, their voice matters.”

Tamari Cutler, another PHS grad, told the school board the mural celebrated inclusivity.

“The mural is meant to show students they are heard, they are seen and they are safe within our school,” Cutler said.

PHS student Raquel Ndirangu said the mural was created by students, for students. She said Speak Up was meant to be an amplifier of student voices to ensure all students had equal representation.

“This mural and Speak Up represent an environment every student is welcome,” she said. “The fists are symbols of solidarity and unity amongst our generation, no matter your race, religion, ethnicity, gender or sexual preference, whether you are a person of physical disabilities or whether you are a person of cognitive disabilities.”

Rayne said she was surprised by the criticism of the mural and pointed out there are multiple student-created murals within Pocomoke High School.

“All of our murals represent the idea of inclusivity one way or another,” she said.

When students were in the design process, Rayne said one staff member pointed out in the 1960s the raised fist was a political symbol.

“We got into a good conversation about what the fist means for our youth,” she said. “Our kids, they don’t see a fist and see politics. They see a fist and see unity and solidarity and strength. It’s not about the 1960s lens, it’s about the lens of our youth.”

She said erasing the mural would be erasing students’ vision.

“That is not what we represent here,” Rayne said.

About The Author: Charlene Sharpe

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Charlene Sharpe has been with The Dispatch since 2014. A graduate of Stephen Decatur High School and the University of Richmond, she spent seven years with the Delmarva Media Group before joining the team at The Dispatch.