Sep 15

How Dawan realized that "everybody becomes human through art"

by: Carly Rapaport-Stein

Dawan Williams never thought he’d be an artist. But through a series of connections, he came to work at Mural Arts, and now helps other young people discover their resilience through the Restorative Justice program. Read on to learn more about his Mural Arts journey.

I met Robyn Buseman, director of Mural Arts’ Restorative Justice program, when I was an inmate at Graterford prison. I was involved in a Mural Arts based program, called Fathers and Children Together, the FACT program, and I was a two-time graduate. The program is geared towards reconnecting incarcerated fathers back with their children, and Mural Arts served as an icebreaker and the bridge that brings a family back together.

Bloom installation, September 12, 2016. Photo by Steve Weinik.

Eventually I got out. I was going to a FACT Board meeting and Robyn was walking down the street and looked and said, “what are you doing out?” We laugh about that to this day. There was a part time opening for a parents facilitator, based on the FACT curriculum, at Mural Arts, and I applied and got the job. I did so well with the guys, particularly the YVRP program, the Guild, and the PPS guys, that when the position for program coordinator for the guild became available I submitted my resume, filled out the application, was interviewed, and given an opportunity.

Dawan and members of the Guild. Photo by Steve Weinik.

Working at Mural Arts, I feel like a part of something. Having a job is one thing, feeling a part of something is a different entity. Being able to touch, change, and affect people’s lives is big to me.

The Guild members and I, we talk. We form a brotherhood, a sisterhood, a familyhood. I receive phone calls at all times, even after work hours, from guys from the programs who just need to talk, who need a shoulder to lean on. They need some type of redirection and they need to talk to somebody they feel they can relate to.

Bloom installation. September 2016. Photo by Steve Weinik.

Art opens your mind. While we’re taking the Restorative Justice approach, once the paint brushes come out and the panels come out, the conversation becomes a lot more easy. We did a project at John Bartram High School on Martin Luther King day of service where we partnered with the first judicial district and the state representative’s office. At first the guys, coming from a certain background, were like, whoa, how is this gonna be? These are the same judges and legislators that want to throw the book at us. Once we got our location and the drop cloth get rolling and the tape cloth comes out and the paint brushes and you’re helping people–everybody instantly forgets their official capacity. Everybody just becomes human through art.

Everybody just becomes human through art.

- Dawan Williams

One of our youth partners thought he was just talking to a lady from the church or somebody from the community, and they begin talking, lo and behold she was a judge. It was mind boggling to her that she was talking to someone that had possibly been through her courtroom. It painted a different picture of who this person was and could be. It was the same thing for the young man.  He had an open conversation with someone, without having a preconceived notion for who the person was, then at the end of that conversation, was shocked to find he’d been talking and working and laughing with a judge. The greater good is, it paints the picture in the judges’ and legislators’ minds that people may have fallen, but they can most definitely can get up.

Bloom installation. September 2016. Photo by Steve Weinik.

I never saw myself as an artist. I never saw myself painting anything. I never saw myself working on any of these projects. I never saw myself being a go to guy. I never saw myself changing an entire community. Just to be able to be a part of something phenomenal, it speaks volumes. To be given a chance to be in a position to help change the lives of others is a privilege.

I never saw myself changing an entire community. Just to be able to be a part of something phenomenal, it speaks volumes.

- Dawan Williams

Last updated: Nov 9, 2016

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