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DC art students memorialize Jesse Owens

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WASHINGTON (AP) — A tribute to Olympic hero Jesse Owens now is proudly on display at the Frank D. Reeves Municipal Center in Northwest thanks to students at a nearby arts school.

District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser and other city officials were on hand last month for the unveiling of a 15-foot by 15-foot mural depicting Owens in his triumph at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin, where, as an ESPN writer once observed, he "single-handedly crushed Hitler's myth of Aryan supremacy" by winning four gold medals in track and field.

Bearing the simple declaration "I am Jesse Owens," the mural was created by students at the Duke Ellington School of the Arts.

"They had an opportunity today to put into practice some of the skills they have learned in museum studies," said Marta Stewart, head of the Ellington School's Museum Studies Department, which sponsored the mural's creation in association with the district's Commission on the Arts and Humanities and Office of Motion Picture and Television Development.

"In coming here," Stewart said, "I was thinking about Jesse Owens and the idea of race, and how race is kind of a metaphor for our vocation, what we decide to do in life. And in school, that's where my race takes me."

She told the audience at the dedication ceremony that her students began their art project by researching Owens' life and legacy.

"I think what they came away with was that everybody has a dream," she said. "And those dreams can be reality if you really put your mind to it."

Local artist Mark Walker, himself an Ellington School graduate, helped the students design and create the artwork, using their understanding of Owens' struggles and success.

The son of a sharecropper, Owens gained international acclaim with his victory in Berlin at time when Hitler was promoting Aryan racial supremacy.

At the April 10 dedication ceremony, Deputy Mayor Brian Kenner recalled growing up in Iowa as one of the few African-Americans in his school.

"When you're in school, you may not have a lot of role models that are prominent figures that look like you," Kenner said. "And when you're in school, the two people they talk about are Jackie Robinson and Jesse Owens, so in many ways he was one of the first figures that I learned to associate with. So to be here to pay tribute with this fantastic mural is really a pleasure."

In her remarks, Bowser took a moment to tout her proposed budget, which provides funding for the arts and education.

"You came out to vote for me because you love the prosperity that is Washington, D.C.," the mayor said, "but you also want to make sure you have a place in it. Our budget is focused on jobs and building a pathway to the middle class. Part of that is in the schools."

Congratulating the mural's young artists, she promised that her budget will make Duke Ellington and other city schools even greater institutions for Washington's youth.

"I wanted to thank the team that made this yearlong art placement possible on our municipal building and remember and honor Jesse Owens — not only what he did for sports, but what he did for America," Bowser said. "We don't always appreciate the struggles of people who came first, but because they withstood, we can stand here today in a much different world. So I'm honored our city can have a prominent place for this mural, and now it's displayed on U Street."


Information from: The Washington Times,

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