Franklin High School Students Paint Their Resistance

Artist Yoona Lee with a portion of the Franklin High School students' mural. Photo by Lauren Holloway

Many Americans woke up the day after the last presidential inauguration in a fog of disbelief and despair. Far fewer of us had to then drag ourselves into work and face a horde of despondent teens.

“It’s hard enough to see the news yourself, but then you go to a high school the next day and see a student body full of immigrants, students of color, queer students,” says Lauren Holloway, a teacher and teaching artist at Franklin High School. “They’re all on the front lines, and you see their faces, and it’s just…” she trails off, shaking her head. “I was like, OK, this is a call to action. I need to do more. But what does more look like, you know?”

In this case, doing more looks like a multipanel mural, 40 feet wide and over six feet tall, honoring the history of Seattle’s Black Panther Party. Painted by Franklin students and local artists, the mural is part of the Art of Resistance & Resilience club Holloway helped launch in March 2017.

The club started off small, making buttons and screen-printing—in the beginning it was as much about providing students a space to express their anxieties as it was about producing art. Then last summer, Holloway saw My People Are Rising, a documentary about the Seattle chapter of the Black Panther Party. Realizing that many Panthers had joined the party in their teens and early 20s was an inspiration, as was the Black student who’d expressed outrage that she wasn’t learning anything about Black history at school. With the Seattle chapter of the Panthers celebrating its 50th anniversary in April, the subject matter seemed to Holloway like a perfect way to galvanize the club. The students agreed.

“As soon as we agreed to do [the mural] they contacted the former Seattle Panthers—Elmer Dixon, Aaron Dixon, Larry Gossett,” Holloway says. Elmer Dixon ended up leading a community forum so that the stakeholders of that history could talk with the students. Emory Douglas, who created much of the Panthers’ iconic artwork, visited Franklin along with artist Caleb Duarte. To give students an idea what art of the resistance can look like, Douglas and Duarte shared a presentation on their project combining Panther and Zapatista imagery, Zapantera Negra.

In total, 26 students worked on the mural. Some 12 core members of the resistance club held weekly painting parties and were joined by other students who helped when they could, sometimes on breaks from other activities like play rehearsal. With help from local artists including Henry Luke, Yoona Lee and Angelina Tolentino, the mural took shape. In October, barring any red tape from a skittish school district, it will be installed on a busy stretch of Rainier Ave., on the fence surrounding Franklin’s sports field.

In the mural, faces of Panthers overlay scenes from the Central District, images of Panther programs, a famous scene of Panthers outside the State Capitol. After a visit to SAM to see Mickalene Thomas’ work, some students incorporated kente cloth patterns. The text of the Panthers’ 10-point program runs along the mural’s lower edge.

Response from the artist and activist community was effusive. An image from the mural was included in the Black Panthers’ 50th anniversary program. Playwright and director Amontaine Aurore offered the students free tickets to see her show Don’t Call It a Riot!, which is set in Seattle’s Panther community. Louie Gong of Eighth Generation gave the students space to paint during spring break and lent his laser cutter to make stencils for the mural’s lettering. Art supply store and gallery Art Primo donated materials. Next year, local soul-funk singer-songwriter Tiffany Wilson will serve as the club’s co-adviser.

I first laid eyes on the colorful mural at a year-end event celebrating the students’ accomplishment at the bucolic Jefferson Park Lawn Bowling Club, of which Tolentino is currently president. “Everything going on with politics has made me say, I gotta get really local,” she says. “We have to focus on our own communities. So I was like, sign me up, whatever help you need and whatever help I can give, I will do that.”

The mural may be just the beginning. The club plans to print 500 posters of the image to raise seed money for their next big project, whatever it may be. Next year they intend to survey the Franklin student body to see what themes they’re thinking about.

“Adults in this city need to see intersectional power happening with young people,” Holloway says. “And the way that young people came together for this mural, they killed it in a way that I don’t really see a lot of adults doing, you know? I’m like, y’all take the lead and show the adults how it’s done.”