Mekhi Richards, 13, and his family gazed upon the new mural at the playground on 33rd and Wallace streets in Mantua. The bright new mural surrounds the entire playground, covering the walls of an outbuilding, the play area, and even the steps with vibrant blues, purples, and pinks.
Richards and other onlookers walked the playground, their gaze following the mural’s geometric patterns interspersed with educational scenes and inspirational athletic moments.
Richards had attended a camp sponsored by the Malcolm Jenkins’ Foundation this past summer and was chosen to be showcased in the new mural at the playground. In the painting, Jenkins, who plays safety for the Philadelphia Eagles, cheers on Richards as he runs.
“My picture is somewhere famous where multiple people can see it,” Richards said.
The mural, officially titled “The Malcolm Jenkins Foundation Promise Mural,” was inspired by the foundation’s summer camp, The Young Dragons. Offered in partnership with Drexel University, the camp is free and offers six weeks of science, technology, engineering, arts, athletics, and mathematics (STEAM) programs to students between the ages of 10 and 14 in the West Philadelphia Promise Zone. Mantua was one of the first five areas in the country designated as a Promise Zone by the Obama Administration in 2014.
During the dedication ceremony, confetti cannons shot multicolored confetti in the air and community members were treated to live music from a DJ. Science stations were set up all around the park, demonstrating the ways the Young Dragons camp links fun and learning, with many of the same lessons illustrated in the mural coming to life.
Malcolm Jenkins shook hands with community members, took photos with fans, and admired the new art with attending kids and their families.
“They see their faces in it, but also just what the mural represents,” Jenkins said.
Gwendolyn Jenkins, Malcolm Jenkins’ mother and the president and CEO of the Malcolm Jenkins Foundation, said that every student should have the same opportunities to succeed in life.
“We believe that all children can thrive in a high quality, enriching learning environment,” she said. “But too many lack the resources they need to get a good start to fulfill their life’s purpose.
In 2017, the Eagles nominated Malcolm Jenkins for the NFL’s Walter Payton Man of the Year Award, an annual award given to the player who most goes above and beyond to help his community.
“When I reflect on how I got to where I am today, every major juncture of my life I’ve had someone help plant a seed,” he said. “Whether it was someone telling me I could be a football player or an entrepreneur. So I think it’s important that I forward those same visions and encouragement to those who have less than I have.”
For Jane Golden, executive director of Mural Arts, the stars aligned when it came to the placement and timing of this mural. At the park, an old mural was deteriorating and the organization was in the process of trying to create a new one when Gwendolyn Jenkins reached out, interested in creating a mural.
“The old mural served its purpose,” said Golden. “But it was time for it to go away and have something brand new that is reflective of what Mantua is today and that’s exactly what we did.”
Artists Gabe Tiberino and Nilé Livingston began working on the mural in July of 2019. The multicolored mural spreads all across the playground, covering the walls of the play areas, basketball courts, and the perimeter of the park. The mural touches every surface of every wall within the park.
The artists’ vision was to create a mural that not only brightened up the area, but one that children could also take inspiration from.
“For me, it means giving the people who live in the area a sense of pride in their own neighborhood,” Livingston said.
Tiberino and Livingston welcomed community members to come paint their own sections of the mural by organizing the sections by color, similar to what is done in many children’s coloring books.
Golden said this area was the ideal setting and location for this mural and what she hoped it would inspire.
“It was just the perfect canvas,” she said.
Tiberino already had several other projects going when Golden approached him about the mural, but he took the project on anyway. He said the mural is important because it brightens up the area and the process of creating it united the community
“It is always good to put a smile on someone’s face,” Tiberino said. “A lot of people like to see the neighborhood get beautified.”
Within the designs of the mural, Tiberino and Livingston incorporated some of the lessons students learn at the Young Dragons Camp, including the science and engineering behind how sneakers are made.
“They go through how to build sneakers and what goes into designing shoes,” said Malcolm Jenkins. “The programs we do are reflected within the arts.”
Mantua Civic Association President Dewayne Drummond has seen the playground come a long way. He used to play there when he was younger.
“This playground was called ‘Bumpety Bump’,” he said. “The ground wasn’t level. There were bumps, cracks, and things of that nature.”
Drummond is thrilled with the work everyone put in to help improve the playground but still wants more to be done.
“I think this is the first step,” Drummond said. “I think they’re still more steps to climb up. There’s always room for improvement. So work with Parks and Rec, work with this foundation, even work with our new councilperson and our state representatives to make this playground better for everyone.”
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