In the aftermath of the racially-charged vandalism that covered the surface of Ohio University’s (OU) Richland Wall, the community has since taken steps to prevent these acts in the future. However, the organization that created the original mural are still inflamed from the hate-filled defacement that sent a polarizing wave through the Athens community.
Students first reported on September 20, the act of vandalism that covered a mural of an African savannah, which included statements such as “Build The Wall,” and “You Can’t Cover This Up,” as well as an image of an individual hanging from a tree beside the words. Students were enraged by the act, and took to social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook to share their frustrations on the racial tensions that were illustrated on campus.
Organizations such as Black Student Union (BSU) and OU’s chapter of the National Association of the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), set up a meeting days following the incident to develop a resolution to prevent future actions from taking place. They asked prominent figures such as OU President Roderick McDavis to address the incident and implement a larger initiative to curb such actions. One group’s voice; however, that’s often overlooked in the situation belong to the individuals that developed the original mural on “the wall.”
Prior to the wall’s vandalism, the individuals that created the mural were children of the organization Kids on Campus. An on-campus volunteer organization, that aims to service children and families considered financially at-risk, by providing transportation, tutoring, nutrition, and an array of opportunities for young students to engage in positive recreational activities. One such activity includes, the painting of the Richland Wall, which according to Kids on Campus Program Manager Jo Ellen Sherow was the first of its kind in the program’s history.
Sherow says approximately 30 children met with a local street artist to contribute to the painting of the “beautiful” image that coated the wall from July, until its ruin September 20, by the hands of still, an unknown party.
Following the incident, Sherow says the artist whom created the mural collaborated with student organizations BSU and NAACP days following the incident to paint over the racial slurs that destroyed the once celebratory depiction of African habitat. Sherow feels the statements were unacceptable, and she would’ve never thought the mural would be painted over, much less with such hateful claims. However, Sherow remains thankful for the time the mural was present on the wall.
“Staff and campers understand that the murals are temporary art and we expected that it would be painted over at some point. We are disappointed that it was in the manner that it happened, but were grateful and pleased with the length of time that it remained in completion,” Sherow says.
Despite the controversy that surrounded the images and the racial tensions that arose from the incident, Sherow says the organization wouldn’t rule out the possibility of designing another piece to place on the wall.
“We would consider including painting a mural again as one of our activities. The campers very much enjoyed the process and it turned out so well.”
The impact it had on the children of Kids on Campus is truly the measuring stick of the importance the mural had to them, as it provided both a reactional outlet and creative platform for them to express themselves freely.
A freedom in which Sherow feels is vital for young children to exercise, especially at an age where they’re searching for their identities, which Sherow says will ultimately set the precedent for the individuals they’ll become as they mature into adulthood. This is the message the organization has pushed toward since their origin in 1996, and one Sherow believes they’ll continue to drive in the minds of the individuals that make up the Athens community.