RPAL mural shines in the spirit of collaboration

A new mural was celebrated at the Richmond Police Activities League at 2200 Macdonald Ave. in Richmond. (All photos by Kathy Chouteau)

By Kathy Chouteau

The Richmond Police Activities League (RPAL) on Friday unveiled a vibrant new mural on its building that bears testimony to the incredible spirit of collaboration among its creators.

Named “Beyond Mentoring” and powered by a Neighborhood Public Art Mini Grant from the Richmond Arts & Culture Commission, the mural was the culmination of hard work, dedication and the creative vision of youth ambassadors from RPAL and artists Rebeca Garcia-Gonzalez and Ximena Soza. RPAL staff members Brandon Evans and Steven Lacy helped lead the project from its inception to its conclusion. 

Preceding the mural unveiling was a small community gathering inside RPAL, during which RPAL staff, city leaders and other project participants addressed an intimate group of celebrants. 

Larry Lewis, executive director of RPAL, welcomed attendees and called the mural an example of “cops and kids at its finest,” highlighting that the project “was designed, discussed and then came to realization through a muralist and through the support of the Richmond Arts & Culture Commission.”

Richmond Police Department’s (RPD) new Police Chief Bisa French followed up Lewis with some brief remarks of her own, noting that “the mural is just as beautiful as all of the young kids we serve here.”

Captain Joey Schlemmer, who serves as a vice president on RPAL’s Board of Directors, told the Richmond Standard that the mural is a good example of the mentorship side of the organization’s work with local youth. Before the event, Captain Schlemmer took a moment to show this reporter RPAL’s impressive gym, and highlighted some of its other life-enriching offerings for youth ages seven to 17, including a recording studio, computers, boxing ring, sports leagues, etc.

“This is a great event and just another example of the great work RPAL is doing,” Captain Schlemmer later shared with the crowd. “The staff, the kids, the officers…This program means a lot to a lot of us—that’s why I’m on the board. There’s a lot of value in this program.” 

Calling the mural “a realistic depiction of cops and kids,” RPAL’s Evans took time to acknowledge the youth ambassadors who participated in designing and painting the mural, including: Maria Avalos, Jeremiah Gaines, Quincy Plummer, Nora Lozano, Jorge Montano, John Wayne and Hadassah Williams.

Police Chief Bisa French speaks at the mural unveiling.

Mural artist Garcia-Gonzalez elaborated on the project’s process, the first part of which involved the youth meeting with her fellow muralist, Soza, over several meetings to discuss their ideas for the mural. Then, over a period of two weeks in August, the group worked with Garcia-Gonzalez to do the painting.

Shortly after the various remarks were made, attendees were invited outside for the mural’s unveiling. 

The end result of the participants’ efforts is a mural that spans the length of the side of RPAL’s building, that’s awash in a spectrum of lively colors in shapes that connect like puzzles pieces and that intermittently features scenes of youth with police officers. 

Included among the mural’s artistic renderings is one depiction that’s particularly meaningful: That of Officer Gus Vegas, who was the victim of gun violence in 2016 while off duty.

During the event, youth ambassador Lozano remarked about the mural’s subject matter, “We [wanted] to show a vision that law enforcement helps our community and [makes] our youth feel more protected…and helps us have resources we can use in the future.”

Those wanting to see the “Beyond Mentoring” mural for themselves can stop by RPAL at 2200 Macdonald Ave. in Richmond. To learn more about the organization’s work, click here.