Inspirational Murals at Juvenile Hall Show Kids ‘Aren't Doomed'

Theater of Hearts/Youth First

On a mural at Central Juvenile Hall in Boyle Heights honoring the civil rights movement, the faces of Martin Luther King Jr. and Cesar Chavez look out over their audience.

"I am proud, proud of me. Proud of the person, I am to be," The Wall of Achievements reads.

The art works to inspire the hundreds of boys and girls who walk its halls. It's one of three murals at the hall that the Theatre of Hearts/Youth First has completed this year.

"The program not only brightens up the halls but it educates, gives encouragement, gives hope and invigorates the spirit of the kids that are unfortunately spending their time in the halls and in the camps," said Sheila Scott-Wilkinson, founder of Theatre of Hearts/Youth First. "We are trying to broaden their horizons. They get to express themselves and start to really get encouraged because they created something that gives them a spring board, a pathway and confidence to move forward."

It's part of an effort to provide arts to kids who have been accused of breaking the law or being put on probation for some type of violation.

Kent Mendoza, 26, was in a gang and got in trouble with the law at age 15. He was in and out of juvenile hall, but said that an arts program he took part in called Insideout Writers helped him become become the law-abiding citizen he is today.

"You cannot expect a kid to go into a system that has no type of resources and then to come home and transition in a good way," said Mendoza, a policy and community organizer with the Anti-Recidivism Coalition. "They need a creative outlet, so you have to have programs that keep them busy and learning."

Heriberto Luna, the artist who who worked with kids on the "Wall of Achievements," says the once white wall at Central that's now filled with bright colors and icons represents hope, empowerment and discovery.

"The reason why I have been doing this for so many years is really because I am a product and believer of art saves lives," said Luna. "I also grew up seeing violence in my neighborhoods and art became my escape from that.

"These kids still have a chance. They aren't doomed."

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