What started as a class project turned into a gift to the N.C. Central University Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender and Alliances Center and the LGBT Center of Durham.
The gift was NCCU’s first LGBTA mural, unveiled March 3 in the Alfonso Elder Student Union.
Mass communications junior JahMarie Jean was assigned a “community based learning project” for his Mass Media and Popular Culture class.
He said he was inspired to show that the LGBTA community and other communities can come together as one, so he named the mural with a hashtag people could use to spread the word: #Shoulder2Shoulder.
The bright, multi-colored mural, depicting five figures standing shoulder-to-shoulder, is designed to be split into two sections.
One half will remain on campus at the LGBTA Center, and the other half will reside in Durham’s LGBT Center on Hunt Street near downtown.
LGBT Center board chairwoman Helena Craig attended the unveiling on the center’s behalf.
Jean told the audience of about 30 that he decided to do something for the LGBTA community because of his own experiences as a gay man.
He said he did not feel comfortable telling people he was gay until he got to NCCU.
“North Carolina Central University was my platform,” Jean said, “a platform that allowed me space to really deal with my inner issues and struggles, my official platform to be free, to express myself in a way that in a million years I thought I would never get the opportunity to do.”
The audience laughed when Jean told them he came out to his parents in a letter he mailed from campus – to their home in Durham, ten minutes away.
Jean received help on the project from fellow mass communications junior Corin Hemphill.
Although Jean and Hemphill came up with the project idea, the mural itself was painted by mass communications senior L.A. Chesson.
Chesson told the audience at the unveiling that at first he just wanted to help his friends. But eventually, he said, working on the mural taught him a lesson.
“As a straight male, it was a step into a new direction of accepting others,” Chesson said. To illustrate that acceptance, he painted the shoulder-to-shoulder figures as a literal take on the hashtag.
The guests oohed and ahhed as the mural was unveiled.
Many pulled out their smartphones to capture the moment and even to be photographed with Chesson and his creation.
NCCU LGBTA Center Director Tranice McNally said she wants the mural to show her members that the center’s work in the community does not go unrecognized.
She said she hopes non-LGBTA students will be inspired to join the club as “allies,” or even “just to be kinder to a community they are not familiar with.”