Recently, many across the country donned the color orange as a part of National Gun Violence Awareness Day. Many major people supported by spreading the word and wearing their orange, like Steph Curry, Amy Schumer, and even Hillary Clinton. President Obama took to Twitter to participate. The Wear Orange campaign has been linked back to Everytown and an organization started by a group of young people who started out in Chicago, prompted by the death of their friend Hadiya Pendleton, may she rest. The movement goes back at least 3 years and started off with a small group which has since rippled outward. We were able to speak to the Executive Director of M.U.R.A.L., an organization that was there at the beginning. We learn more about the origins and meaning behind the movement. Check out our interview with Co-founder and Executive Director Ayesha Jaco below:
CITMI: For those who may not be fully aware, what is M.U.R.A.L.?
Ayesha Jaco: M.U.R.AL. is formerly the Lupe Fiasco Foundation. It’s an acronym for Magnifying Urban Reality And effecting Lives. That’s under a recent rebranding that we instituted within the past year. We are a nonprofit organization based in Chicago. We just celebrated our 5th anniversary. We have three areas of service that’s centered around our mission, that’s geared towards empowering young people to be high performing citizens via the arts, activism & education. And we do that in communities that are unserviced or that may be in short supply of resources to attain that via Food Justice, Education and Study abroad opportunities.
When we first started, we had more of a broader focus. We did things like coat drives. We had initiatives like a youth community where we convened young people from across the city in monthly set meetings. We also continued to do our Food Justices work & continued to do our Study Aboard work. We also used to implement a music education program, pilot & partnership with the Chicago West Community Music Center in East Garfield Park, in our old neighborhood on the West Side. All those initial efforts really started from Lupe, who as an artist coming from Chicago would go to Wacker Drive during the winter months passing out coats, warm meals to people, adopting families [during] the holidays & giving grocery vouchers to have food for the holidays. Those initial acts of kindness, empowered me to create something we could institutionalize & sustain via those initial efforts. That’s how the work was born.
CITMI: Take us back to 2013 when Project Orange Tree was first created. What is Project Orange Tree?
Ayesha Jaco: Some of the Project Orange Tree founding members attended our former city-wide youth committee meetings. when we discontinued that initiative but shortly after Hadiya Pendleton’s death former youth committee members and classmates of hers reached out to us. At the time, we had youth empowerment funding where we were providing youth capacity building funding for young people who wanted to start up initiatives or campaigns to address issues in their community.
The young people who were friends of Hadiya reached out & asked for support as they wanted to organize & bring awareness around structural violence & things that were happening in their communities – her death being a breaking point. We convened with them and presented a town hall that was called Streets On Fire, Peace For Hire. It was held at the Northeastern Illinois University, Jacob Carruthers Center For Inner-City Studies. not only did those young people come, but their friends came, people from their community came & Hadiya’s mom was there. We were just talking about violence, solutions and healing. Lupe was there & really expressed the importance to create a plan of action. That was March 1, 2013 -from March 1st to the launch of Project Orange Tree, our organization incubated that movement. We provided funding, we provided technical support, Lupe himself would fly in & take time out of his schedule at one point once a week to meet with the young people personally. First we started with a group of maybe 25 & that dwindled down to a hardcore group of 15. And in that group, the concept was created of Project Orange Tree. The concept of adopting the color orange [was] because it was a color that hunters wore when they were going hunting to signal “don’t shoot” to fellow hunters. That entire concept was born there with those young people at the table, with M.U.R.A.L. at the table, with Lupe at the table & then their campaign was born. Really within 4 weeks of that initial March 1st town hall, we came up with that campaign – helping with their structural violence campaign which was Project Orange Tree. April 1st through April 4th the wearing of orange. We fasted for those who were not here. fasting culminated on April 4th which was the day Dr. Martin Luther King died. The purpose of the fast was to remember those who were murdered & no longer had physical space at the dinner table.
With that, these kids were awesome, they met on a weekly basis. When the campaign launched they had people as far as in Ghana & Japan posting pictures on social media showing their solidarity & that went on for 4 days. At the end of it we celebrated at Chicago State University, we had media there & we also celebrated at the Inner-City Muslim Action Network IMAN – so we had community partners involved & from there they continued to meet & organize. And they did open mics & all these cool things centered around that movement which our organization incubated. At the time this movement was growing, Hadiya’s mom created her foundation – we hosted a candle light vigil on Hadiya’s birthday that year. A few months later Project Orange Teens created their own Non-Profit organization. It was really great to see the capacity building & leadership that was born out of that.
CITMI: With that being said, does Project Orange Tree still exist?
Ayesha Jaco: Yes, they still exist. A lot of their members at the time of the launch of the initiative which then became the organization, went off to college throughout the country. But as far as I know they still organize & do work.
CITMI: How do you feel seeing people nationwide wearing Orange & getting into this issue?
Ayesha Jaco: I think that it’s a great thing. I think that Chicago has always been a trendsetter – not that you can trend set activism & movement building, but we had a lot of firsts here so for me it’s a huge compliment to see something that our organization helped incubate & provide resources for be on a national platform, which at the time of the launch it was supported nationally & internationally but to see it adopted & more people being involved – that’s great,
CITMI: In your opinion, what needs to happen to end the violence and assure the safety of our youth?
Ayesha Jaco: I think there’s so many levels when you talk about violence in our city. It takes a multilayered approach. There are some short term, mid term & long term things that need to be looked out & implemented. When you look at poverty being one of the main cases & lack of resources, lack of things for young people committing the crime to have other alternatives, to have means to make better choices.
CITMI: What’s next for M.U.R.A.L.?
Ayesha Jaco: For M.U.R.A.L., we’re continuing to do our Food Justice work, continuing with our Hip Hop scholars work that’s centered around education, advocacy & we’re continuing our Study Aboard work so this summer we’re going to be working closely with IMAN, the Inner-City Muslim Action Network. This is the 4th year sponsoring their Refresh The Hood campaign which provides fresh produce in food deserts. We’re also going to be working with our partners at the Pullman Porter Museum for their Juneteenth celebration. We’re going to be implementing some cooking classes for families throughout the city this summer.
CITMI: How can others reach out to you all on social media? And how can others get involved?
Ayesha Jaco: If people want to learn more, they can definitely go to our website, it’s still LupeFiascoFoundation.org, and sign up as a volunteer or get more information. Our social media handles are @WeAreMural on Twitter & Instagram. You can find us at MURAL Chicago on Facebook. If you start there, you’ll learn more & get in tune to what we have going on.
And there you have it! You heard it all from Ayesha Jaco herself. Make sure you follow M.U.R.A.L. on all social media sites to stay aware of all their future events. Much success to you Ayesha Jaco & please stay in touch.
Picture was taken at the Daley Plaza. Teacher’s Strike, April 1, 2013, Chicago, Illinois.
Picture was taken during weekly community meeting at Northeastern Illinois University, Jacob Carruthers Center For Inner-City Studies, Chicago: April 2013.