For many years now, school children and neighbors who passed by Lew's Market on the corner of 33rd and Imperial saw vivid images of drugs and gangs depicted in a life-size mural painted on the side of the market. Created from ideas generated by students at a neighborhood elementary school in the early 1990's, the fifteen-foot high and fifty-foot long mural portrayed a vision of how the students saw their community - as a struggle between good and evil. One of the most notable images depicted was a person injecting himself with an over-sized hypodermic needle.
In an effort to respond to residents' concerns and to improve their community, the Bronze Triangle CDC worked with members from the San Diego Police Department and the City Attorney office's Neighborhood Prosecution Unit, Lew's Market and a local artist to replace what many saw as the portrayal of hopelessness with a new mural more representative of the community's offerings.
"We, as residents, are beginning the process of rebuilding our neighborhoods from within and improving the quality of our own lives," said Gale R. Walker of the Bronze Triangle CDC. "The block-long mural that once covered the wall of Lew's Market did not empower residents to strive for personal achievement, or to preserve dignity, nor dit it accurately reflect to our children the neighborhood's progress in creating a diverse, safe, quality community."
"That mural reinforced the perception that this is a drug community, but that is not the case," said Officer Wes Mang-um of the San Diego Police Department's Neighborhood Prosecution Unit. "These neighborhoods are filed with hard working people genuinely interested in re-establishing community pride and value through beautification and increased safety, and that is why we started with this mural."
Phillip Lew, owner of Lew's Market, enthusiastically welcomed the interest and donated the paint to cover the old mural and create the new scene. "Within two weeks, local artist and resident Michael Keith Watson airbrushed a more realistic portrayal of our community," said Lew. "The mural now featured congregating points in our community, including children playing outside, King Elementary School, Children of the Rainbow Child Care Center, the San Diego Trolley, Lew's Market and the local church."
"Just like the mural I painted for the Children of the Rainbow, I like the characters I paint to represent real people in the community," said Watson. "It was exciting to hear the enthusiasm from adults and children as they gathered along the sidewalk and shouted out recommendations for faces of their friends and family, and in some cases themselves."
Reclaiming the wall of Lew's Market is just one step in the Bronze Triangle CDC's plan to revitalize the community. The resident-led CDC is also sponsoring workshops in January to seek resident input in creating a detailed plan to develop a more interconnected array of neighborhood-level programs, a supportive network that promotes family strengthening, a focus on educational and community offerings and, ultimately, an emphasis on affordable housing.
"The Bronze Triangle CDC is working with the Annie E. Casey Foundation's Making Connections initiative to address and resolve several issues that plague some of San Diego's most severely neglected neighborhoods," said Walker. "These workshops are designed to solicit ideas from all residents who live in the neighborhoods and to encourage them to be key players in the planning process of their community. We need everyone's help to determine how best to revitalize our neighborhoods, such as the mural at Lew's Market, and to search for long-term solutions for affordable housing."
The next workshop is open to all residents of Grant Hill, Stockton and Logan Heights and will be held Saturday, January 26 from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. at St. Paul United Methodist Church on 3094 L Street. Breakfast, lunch and childcare are provided, and although residents are being asked to participate all day, they can come and go as needed. The workshop on January 12th answered the questions: if all things were possible, what would we like our community to look like five years from now, what's standing in the way of achieving our vision, and how do we overcome the barriers? The upcoming workshop on January 26 will focus on how to overcome the barriers identified on 12th and move toward our vision. The session will also identify goals for the strategic plan for the next one to two years.