Cameras descended on the Sandtown-Winchester community in the days after Freddie Gray's death, and on Friday, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings said he wished they'd come back.
Cummings, along with Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, attended the unveiling of a colorful mosaic at New Song Academy. The work depicts a man and a child walking across a bridge surrounded by bright flowers.
"I wish those cameras could be here in this moment as they see a city who may have tripped a little bit, but has dusted itself off and is getting back up," Cummings said. "The mural is so significant. … It shows the idea that we as adults are leading our children to a greater future. Our children are the living messages we send to a future we'll never see. The question is: How will we send them? Freddie Gray reminded us that some of our children go before their parents, and we're reminded that we are better than that."
Gray, 25, died in April after suffering a spinal cord injury while in police custody, touching off protests and violence. He had been arrested in Sandtown-Winchester.
The mosaic project, coordinated by nonprofit Art with a Heart and the Greater Baltimore Committee's LEADERship program, is the culmination of 16 months of work by more than 800 volunteers from across the state, ranging in age from 5 to 85.
"Art, both the process of making art and the final product, makes a difference," said Randi Pupkin, the founder and executive director of Art with a Heart. "Art has the ability to unify a community. It transcends differences and divisions. It speaks many languages without a translator. Art joins us together in a meaningful way."
Pupkin said the mosaic is representative of the Sandtown-Winchester community.
"It is the sum of all its parts that makes it so special," she said. "Standing alone, these tiles do not say anything, but together, they speak of joy and love and light. Together, these tiles, just like the individuals working in this school, resonate hope."
Rawlings-Blake said the mosaic's location, on a previously blank schoolhouse wall, is significant.
"The key to being able to cross that bridge is education," she said. "The fact that we're here, at a school, in partnership with the entire community across the whole gamut — age, race, socioeconomic class — everyone is here together in partnership to unlock the possibilities for our most precious resource, and that's our young people."
Amelia Harris, the school's chairwoman, said she hopes city residents driving by the school pause to admire the artwork, as she does.
"It's a place where people in the community will slow down in their cars and see what Sandtown is really about," Harris said. "It allows everybody to stop for a moment and come together, whether we know each other or not."
For Cummings, it's not enough for people to just look at it, though.
"We need to see it as a symbol," he said, "that together, we can accomplish anything."