The small community of Ferguson, Missouri has been in the headlines worldwide in the past six months. While most of the headlines have depicted scenes of unrest and riots, many positive things have been going on in Ferguson — stories the national headlines missed.
One of those things happened on a sunny, unseasonably warm day last fall, over Thanksgiving weekend, when hundreds of people of all ages and from all walks of life gathered in the Ferguson, Missouri community armed with paint brushes.
A woman who grew up in Ferguson and still lives in the St. Louis area witnessed the art outreach and turned it into a children’s book that inspires hope, healing and unity. What’s even better is that all proceeds from the book will benefit programs for youth in the area, as well as small business recovery in the same affected c0unty.
“They drew pictures of Peace, of Hope and of Light, that show Love’s even stronger, than the darkest of nights” says one of the child-friendly verses written by author Carol Swartout Klein that fill the 48-page book called, “Painting for Peace in Ferguson.”
The vivid images in the book tell the true story of hundreds of artists and residents of all ages who came together and used the simplest of tools — a paintbrush — to decorate the plywood covered broken windows on block after block of boarded up businesses. The dozens of damaged businesses were located across several miles in Ferguson, Dellwood and South Grand in St. Louis city. The book contains 140 images of art and mentions more than 300 artists and volunteers who participated in the Paint for Peace St. Louis effort.
The book, published on February 21 by Layla Dog Press, was produced using all-local suppliers from St. Louis. It will be available at local St. Louis book retailers and online at Amazon.com. The hardback book will retail for $25.95 and paperback editions cost $15.95 through the website.
Klein went back to her childhood neighborhood just days after the destructive fires and riots to see how she could help. She witnessed hundreds of people of all ages and races spontaneously giving up their Thanksgiving weekend to support their community, which was still reeling and in shock. She was so moved by the selfless spirit of the volunteers and the compelling artwork that she wanted to do her part as well. Her idea was to capture the positive moment of hope and community healing by putting pen to paper. Painting for Peace in Ferguson is the result.
Remembering the Mr. Rogers quote that reminds children to ’look for the helpers when scary things happen,’ Klein thought a children’s book that told the compelling story of all the neighbors who came together to help each other might give children and their parents a way to begin talking about many of the issues raised by the unrest in Ferguson.
Centered on a child-friendly poem penned by Klein, the book does not go into the specifics of what caused the unrest, but rather focuses on the way the community came together to begin the healing process through the Paint for Peace effort. “Painting for Peace in Ferguson” shares the basic idea that anyone, at any age has a talent that they can contribute to help others, even when things seem to be at their worst.
“We designed this book to be a tool for parents and teachers to begin conversations,” explained Klein. “Over the Thanksgiving weekend, and for weeks afterwards, it was so inspiring to see people young and old, black and white come together to transform boarded up windows from something intimidating to children into something so positive. We did not go into detail because we felt it was important for parents to be able to talk about what happened in Ferguson in a way that was age appropriate for their child and that reflects each family’s perspective.”
“The real essence of the book is empowerment,” noted Klein, “and that if we all do what we can to make our community a better place, amazing things like artwork can spring up in a matter of days, which changed the outlook and spirit of an entire town.”
Funds from the sale of the book will be deposited with the Greater St. Louis Community Foundation a 501(c)(3) organization. Donations made to that fund above and beyond the price of the book are tax-deductible.
SHARE the story (below) / Photos via Painting for Peace Book Facebook Page (bottom artwork by Ryan Archer)