The East Harlem Tutorial Program (EHTP) is one of the many partners of Phillips Charitable Organizations, which seek to support and enrich the lives of wounded veterans, single parents, and students seeking STEM degrees. Since its founding in 1958, EHTP has sought to ensure that all students – regardless of ethnic or socioeconomic background – receive the necessary classroom instruction, experiential education, and personal support to excel in higher education.
In seeking to level the playing field to allow all students access to quality education, the organization places a strong emphasis on the value of diversity and inclusion. EHTP staff members and families hail from around the world and have helped to create a vibrant community where students can learn firsthand the importance of tolerance, compassion, and understanding. Recently, a number of EHTP students partnered with a well-known local artist to create a visual marker of the power of unity.
A Symbol of Unity
After weeks of collaboration between East Harlem Tutorial Program students and the wider community, the BuildLove project reached its culmination on March 21, 2017, when staff members proudly hung the impressive mural on the side of the East Harlem Community Education Center. Measuring 60 feet tall by 14 feet wide, the expansive banner unfurls down five storeys, serving as a visual reminder of the vibrant Harlem community.
The mural includes images representing the diverse heritage of EHTP’s students, including the flags of Jamaica, Mexico, Pakistan, and Puerto Rico, as well as general symbols of inclusion. Stitched together into a single tapestry, the various panels represent shared bonds that unify all members of the human race, regardless of what may divide them.
With the BuildLove mural, EHTP demonstrates the strength that is found when communities live and work together in harmony. This is a lesson that rings true not only within Harlem, but throughout the entire city, state, and nation. In many ways, the mural provides a much-needed contrast to the harsh political rhetoric of recent months, which some view as calling into question the role of immigrants in American society.
In order to counter the divisive rhetoric permeating the public sphere, EHTP opted to instead provide a message of compassion and inclusion. As stated by EHTP executive director Jeff Ginsburg, “[…] our students and families need to hear our voices of love and support more than ever. We can’t support our students if we don’t support who they are and where they’re from.” He continued, “We’re celebrating that New York City is an immigrant city.”
The young artists who took part in the BuildLove project were all students in the East Harlem Tutorial Program’s after-school classes, which provide a supporting and enriching environment for students to receive extra academic help, discover new interest, and build confidence in their own abilities and potential. While students in the primary after-school program range from kindergarten to fifth grade, they may continue to benefit from EHTP’s caring guidance and experiential learning opportunities as students in its junior high and college prep programs.
Joining students to assemble the BuildLove project in the EHTP gym was local artist Manny Vega, who has built an international reputation for creative expressions that celebrate cultural diversity and inclusion. A New York City native, Vega is best-known for creating public artwork, including mosaics on display in New York subway stations and the Bronx’s Pregones Theater.
His pieces span various subjects and media, including murals, theatre props, and ritual costumes for both African and Brazilian customs. However, one theme pervades much of his art. Through his work, Manny Vega strives to help individuals view themselves as a part of the global community, and to value the various cultural histories and beliefs that allow for such a vibrant society.
At the request of EHTP executive director Jeff Ginsburg, Manny Vega drew up the initial design for the mural in early January 2017, then invited more than 200 EHTP students – representing a broad spectrum of geographic and ethnic backgrounds – to put their personal marks on the community project. As an art instructor, Vega seized the opportunity to introduce young minds to the enrichment and potential of artistic expression. “Instead of anxiety and fear, we are being proactive,” he said. “It’s important for people to feel that they have a voice.”
Spreading the Love
Through BuildLove, Manny Vega and the students of the East Harlem Tutorial Program are working to spread a message of unity and compassion not only within the Harlem community, but around the world. The artists have laid the foundation for social media discussions with the hashtag #Buildlove, in addition to creating a template for individuals across the globe to create their own digital creative demonstrations.
To learn more about BuildLove from the students and EHTP staff members at the heart of the project, visit https://medium.com/east-harlem-tutorial-program-buildlove-project.