PHS project honors efforts toward diversity

Powhatan High School students sponsored the Powhatan Community Makers to honor those who have worked hard for change.

POWHATAN – Several Powhatan High School students recently honored a diverse multicultural group of local community members that have helped the community flourish.

This school year, the Diverse Hands at Work Club and the National Arts Honor Society embarked on a new multimedia project called the Powhatan Community Makers. The goal was to honor several nominees who have made a difference in the community with special portraits and interviews spearheaded by students, said Melissa Glanden, librarian at the high school.

The project involved multiple steps, starting with taking nominations in early 2019. Five individuals were chosen to be honored by the students for their work in Powhatan: Andrew Snead, Rick Cole, Dr. Lynn Clayton-Prince, Angel Rather and Nailah-Benã Chambers.

The nominees came to the school to be interviewed by the students and have photographs taken. The art students used the photographs to prepare canvases to be painted in a modern-portrait style, said Maddie Harris, an art student who helped with the project before she graduated earlier this month.

The canvases with the base sketches were brought out on March 16 during the International Diversity Day held at the high school. Community members in attendance had the opportunity to work together to paint the backgrounds, she said. The portraits continued to emerge with the help of art students of all levels in the weeks that followed.

“It is a lot of work going into one painting from different people. If you think about it, everything is in your style when you paint. So to have different people working on one thing, it mixes it all up. It is hard to blend it all to make it look cohesive. It was super difficult and super scary to do all this. But I think it has turned out really well. I absolutely love it,” Harris said.

The project was inspired by Richmond artist Hamilton Glass, who worked with the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and created a portable mural project of advocates in the Richmond community, Glanden said. The students involved in the project visited the VMFA to see Glass’ RVA Community Makers project and then created their own version for PHS.

Gabby Hammond, a rising sophomore, was one of the journalism students who interviewed some of the honorees and thought it was great that they support diversity in so many ways.

Gabby said her whole class helped create the interview questions. She did video interviews with Clayton-Prince, who used to be her principal, and Rather and Chambers, who were fellow students at the time. These interviews will be tied to scannable QR codes that will be on display with the portraits so people can scan them and pull up the videos.

She added that she hopes anyone who sees the project will know there are people who care about the students “and if we feel accepted when we walk in.”

The five individuals were honored for various reasons:

* Andrew Snead is the vice president of the Powhatan NAACP chapter; a trustee at First Antioch Baptist Church; serves as the Henrico Fire personnel director, and is a member of the PHS Mentor program.

* Rick Cole is the District 1 representative for the Powhatan County School Board; served as teacher and then was PHS principal from 1995 to 2008; is part of the PHS Mentor program, and is a career coach at the high school.

* Dr. Lynn Clayton-Prince is currently the director of special education for Powhatan County Public Schools and is actively involved in her church as well we several Powhatan community groups, including the Elizabeth Randolph Lewis Powhatan YMCA, the Powhatan Education Foundation, the Powhatan Historical Society, the Powhatan chapter of the NAACP, and the Powhatan Democratic Committee. She is also a PHS Mentor program member and serves on autism, equity and diversity, and special education advisory committees. She was formerly the principal of Pocahontas Middle School.

* Angel Rather and Nailah-Benã Chambers, who both graduated from PHS this month, were nominated together. The pair, who are shown together in one of the portraits, started the Diverse Hands at Work Club in their junior year and made a big push as seniors to encourage inclusiveness through seminars, field trips, student forums, and the International Diversity Fair held at the school.

Snead said he saw a similar project in Henrico and thought it was a great way to recognize people in the community. When he was nominated, he felt it was a great honor.

“I do things and I am not looking for any recognition. I am just trying to do what’s best. I have a moral code and if something meets my moral code I try to do it and do the best I can,” he said.

He added that he tries to be a good example and role model who hopefully influences people to do more for others as well.

Chambers said that when the students first visited the VMFA, she worried about how they could accomplish this project given how full their senior year already was. But she soon changed her mind and came to see it as part of the legacy she and Rather could leave at PHS.

“Mutually we were saying this is going to be a big deal because we have done a lot this year and feel like we left a big impact on the school. A lot of students have been getting into our club. So to have a mural left behind would show the impact of these things and start a new chapter after we leave,” she said.

Rather hopes that through the mural project, she and her friend can lead by example. They want people to know they made mistakes and got knocked down at times but also got back up and tried their hardest to make a difference in their school.

“For anybody who comes after us, that is what I would want them to really relate to,” she said.

Laura McFarland may be reached at Lmcfarland@powhatantoday.com.

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