“Hands Across a Community” mural connects cluster elementary schools


Courtesy of Lauren Edwards

At Inman Elementary school, teaching artist Yehimi Cambrón presents the mural she made through collaboration with art from the students.

Molly Thompson

A “Hands Across a Community” mural will be installed in all five Midtown Cluster elementary schools as part of Atlanta Public Schools’ No Place For Hate initiative.

Since 2015, No Place for Hate has been a district-wide initiative dedicated to building a community to end bullying and prejudice in schools. By connecting the five schools through the project, Robin Deutsch Edwards, its facilitator, is looking to take another step forward toward achieving this goal.

“It’s one small and important way that all the families are learning that we’re all one community, too,” Edwards said. “What happened in the classroom actually sort of amplified out into the community and the PTAs, the families, caregivers and parents are building relationships as well as the guidance counselors and staff at the schools.”

The mural has been installed in four of the five midtown cluster elementary schools – and will be installed in the newly renovated Morningside building next year. It depicts students from the cluster surrounded by thousands of colorful paper hands created by the elementary students. The creator of this artwork, artist Yehimi Cambrón, dedicated countless hours to cutting out each and every hand that was customized with drawing materials by the first through second graders and paint by the third through fifth graders.

“Each little hand has so much character, and there were just all these beautiful drawings going around the hands,” Cambrón said. “The colors were so creative and vivid;so, I loved receiving those things after the activity.”

Cambrón is an artist and activist who grew up in Michoacán, Mexico, until she immigrated to Georgia at 7 years old. Her artwork, which can be found around Atlanta, mainly centers around the experiences of undocumented Americans. Throughout the Midtown Cluster project, Cambron felt connected to the students and wanted to make sure she could convey a meaningful message.

“I really feel that students were able to take ownership of the artwork that is now in the schools and that will remind them of this message of being loving towards each other and embracing each other’s differences and the things that make them unique,” Cambrón said. “A big part of the program is just kind of like a message of anti-bullying, and my hope is that this mural serves as a reminder to students of the things that they have learned not just this year, but throughout the years with this program.”

The activity was presented to the students through instructional videos made by Cambrón that were shown in class at a time most convenient to the teachers and students. 

“With a guided video I included, I am introducing them to line contour drawing and to the aspect of murals and what that is,” Cambrón said. “It started with an introduction through an activity that they did with their own teacher that tied in the book that they are assigned as a part of the No Place for Hate program this year.”

Through the book “Hey, Wall: A Story of Art and Community,” students were taught about the influence that art can have by telling a story that brings the community together. APS Fine Arts Coordinator Dr. Sarah Womack believes the murals are a powerful force that do just that.

“It brought the whole community together.” Womack said. “Each elementary school now has one piece of a larger mural. It is a visual representation of the entire community that every kid in elementary school across the cluster had a hand in creating.”

There is one original copy of the mural that was split into five sections, which were incorporated into each school’s copy of the mural. 

“Each school received one piece of the mural, installed over the reproduction,” Cambrón said. “That means every school has the entire mural in a reproduction, but also each school got a piece of the original as well.”

With the addition of Inman Elementary School, hundreds of students are getting redistricted to new elementary schools within the cluster, making it more divided than ever.

“There is a whole lot of division and rancor right now in APS, and this project is a really amazing example of collaboration between schools,” Edwards said. “It’s really amazing that 3,000 kids participated in this thing and that we all have a piece of it, regardless of where we go to school.”

Edwards, Womack, Yehimi, teachers, parents, students and other community stakeholders collaborated with a common goal of creating a community against prejudice and bullying in the cluster’s elementary schools. 

“Each of us is a unique individual, but together we make up the Midtown Cluster,” Edwards said. “So, we might have different schools, we might have different classrooms, but we’re all part of one community.”