By Scott Smith Kokomo Tribune
---- — To understand the significance of the new mural at the F.D. Reese Academy, it’s necessary to go back and study a bit of the history of the American civil rights movement.
Dr. Frederick Douglas Reese, the school’s namesake, is a prominent pastor in Selma, Ala., and was one of the key organizers of the three marches in 1965 from Selma to the state capitol, Montgomery, to protest the deaths of civil rights activists in that state.
The first of the marches, called “Bloody Sunday,” was met by violent opposition at the Edmund Pettus Bridge, which spans the Alabama River between Selma and Montgomery.
Reese signed a letter to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. asking him to join a second march nine days later. This time, the protesters were able to cross the bridge.
That’s the story behind “A Bridge to Excellence,” and it’s a part of American history, as Reese Academy teacher Patricia Anderson noted during an unveiling ceremony on a very snowy Wednesday morning.
“We are Americans, because when we were brought here, we became Americans,” Anderson said. “We don’t talk about black history here. We’re a part of American history.”
Doran Gwyn, a training manager with Chrysler Group LLC, was the artist who completed the mural, which spans the hallway where the Academy’s pre-K through third grade school kids hang up their coats.
Or rather, Gwyn took pains Wednesday to downplay his artistic credentials, despite the mural he’d created speaking otherwise.
“I don’t consider myself an artist by any means,” Gwyn said. “I was excited to do it, but I had no idea the scope of it, or how big it was going to be.”
Part of a company community involvement committee, Gwyn said he was singled out for the mural by a co-worker, Monica Fowler, whose sister’s family attends the church and school.
Gwyn said Fowler saw the screensaver on his desktop computer that displayed a wall he’d decorated in his own home. Apparently that wall was pretty good, because Gwyn’s committee signed up to do the Reese Academy wall, with Gwyn elected for the lead role.
Wednesday, a number of notables from the local community signed the wall, including funeral home director Nathan L. Bluitt Jr., Kokomo Mayor Greg Goodnight, the Academy’s first school board president, Frank Bellamy, the school’s principal, Howard Newsome, and Mt. Pisgah Missionary Baptist Church Pastor Lonnie E. Anderson Jr.
The Christian school, started in 2009, is located at Mt. Pisgah and has 22 students and six faculty.
Gwyn said he knew he had to draw a bridge, but didn’t realize at first that Pastor Anderson and the school faculty wanted a specific bridge — the Edmund Pettus Bridge.
The bridge, which is now a national landmark along the Voting Rights Trail, is pictured on the mural filling in the gap between the church and the students. Further, to the right of the kids, the starry universe beckons.
As he talked his mural ideas over with school officials, Gwyn said he came to share the school’s vision, the idea of a place which gives kids a firm foundation and sets them on a path to success.
“There’s something going on in this school,” Gwyn said. “This place is a bridge to success.”
Scott Smith is on Twitter, @JasonSSmith1, and can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.