Diversity, community, and storytelling have become common buzzwords as of late. Flying around, circling in, out, and through our conversations. And for good reason. The power that comes through putting these words into action can create lasting change. On March 2nd, at Urban Ministry Center, these three words came to life through the power of art.
Local artist Edwin Gil, along with his apprentice Kate Carlson, worked with our ArtWorks 945 Studio to gather over 200 thumbprints on pieces of recycled glass. These thumbprints were then used as the background for Gil’s 44th Faces of Diversity Mosaic. The College Street Campus is proud to be the home of this new mosaic that highlights faces of five diverse individuals who left a lasting impression on our community and our hearts.
This project was very emotional for Edwin Gil. When Edwin fled to Charlotte from South America 19 years ago, he was experiencing homeless. With nothing, he utilized the services at Urban Ministry Center to help him get back on his feet. At the unveiling Edwin shared his story with the community. He stated, “I used to come to this place to find food, to survive.” It was through the relationships he built in the ArtWorks945 program and the power of art that he began healing and rebuilding his life. Hear Edwin’s full story below.
Before unveiling the mosaic, Edwin challenged the crowd with words to empower everyone, “Life is hard. There are many ups and downs. Like the technique, we are going to break many times, but always it is going to be our choice to take those pieces and create ourselves a masterpiece.”
Once the mosaic was unveiled the stories continued. Edwin spoke about why he chose to highlight Dale Mullennix (center) in the mosaic. As the first Executive Director, Dale has played a prominent role the growth of Urban Ministry Center and he made an impact on Edwin during his time as a neighbor. Dale is the face of Urban Ministry Center.
Robert Nesbit spoke about William Montgomery (top right) and their shared love of John Wayne. Robert said that William had trouble with memory, and how every time they met was like the first. Mr. Montgomery will be remembered for his kindness and compassion. William is the face of Urban Ministry Center.
Liz Clasen-Kelly spoke with transparency about Ken Smothers (bottom left). Ken was known for the sparkle in his eye, his poetry, woodworking, and being an advocate for those experiencing homelessness. Sadly, Ken passed away while still experiencing homelessness, before our community adopted the Housing First model. Liz said that for her, Ken is a “siren for why we must continue to push for all human beings to have housing.” Ken is the face of Urban Ministry Center.
Kenny Duke made us laugh with his sweet memories of Rose “Peanut” Crank (bottom right). Peanut was a small woman, with a presence that would fill the room. She had a way with words, but was quick to apologize if she was hurtful. Peanut became an icon at Moore Place and even after her death her presence still lingers through those she loved. Peanut is the face of Urban Ministry Center.
Last, Dale Mullennix shared with us the commitment of Sandra Smith (top left). Sandra began with UMC as a security guard 24 years ago, but followed her gifts and passion to our soup kitchen, where she has been our dedicated director for over 20 years. Sandra is the face of Urban Ministry Center.
After sharing stories, the crowd, was asked to decorate a butterfly to add to the mosaic, symbolizing renewal and how we all have the chance to create a beautiful masterpiece. The simple act of coloring opened the door to community and further connection among people who were volunteers, staff, UMC supporters, and neighbors yet to be housed.
In his closing speech Dale spoke passionately about this project, “What we have learned at Urban Ministry Center is when we come together with those different than us, we discover we are all alike. Our common humanity is not something we need to create or advocate for, it is something we need to acknowledge is truth.”
If you missed this event, this is your challenge. Step out. Acknowledge our common humanity. Ask someone to color. Create your beautiful masterpiece.
Faces of Diversity is an international social art project by Gil. Hands-on activities combined with intentional dialogue about race, culture, and socio-economics help participants see how we are all connected and special in our own way.