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Eisenhower grad returns to area to help Richards students find 'safe spaces' through art - Chicago Tribune

Author: Chicago Tribune

Source: https://www.chicagotribune.com/suburbs/daily-southtown/ct-sta-richards-young-rembrandts-st-1031-20231030-noioddqe5rfujo75qfwfi4fnr4-story.html

Image of Eisenhower grad returns to area to help Richards students find 'safe spaces' through art - Chicago Tribune

Making art helped Jasmine Meza work through some tough times when she was in high school, and last week she returned to her school district to offer current students at Richards High in Oak Lawn the same opportunities for self expression she had at Eisenhower High School in Blue Island, guiding them in a painting session.“I needed it as a kid, I think that was where I went whenever I felt sad,” said Meza, an art enrichment teacher who travels to schools throughout the south suburbs and Chicago representing the Young Rembrandts program.“It was always a safe space for me, so I would hope to provide that for someone else.”In this case, the freshmen Hispanic and Latino Cultural Club students at Richards were focusing on Day of the Dead, using their artistry to honor their ancestors and loved ones.They painted brightly colored skulls with Meza’s patient advice.“I want my skull to be a very light pink, so I’m going to add just a dot of red and mix it up,” Meza told the students, guiding them through the project with step-by step instructions.“Again, we’re not globing on paint because then it won’t dry.”Students said they chose the class both because of their love of painting and interest in the holiday.“I was just really interested in learning about different cultures,” said Dre’shawn Malone, who enjoys creating illustrations of scenes outside of school.“I really enjoy doing art,” said student Paola Perez.So did their Spanish teacher, Nalleli Herrera. “When I’m not being judged on it,” she said.“It’s a different form of self-expression.”Nalleli Herrera, left, a Spanish teacher at Richards High School in Oak Lawn, joins her students in an art project during a session hosted by Jasmine Meza of Young Rembrandts.(Janice Neumann/Daily Southtown)Herrera said the class was mostly an outlet for fun but had educational aspects too.“It’s getting them to explore the holiday in a different way while working with symbols like the skeleton and flowers and just making a colorful painting,” Herrera said.Herrera asked Meza to lead the class based on a suggestion from James Hart, Meza’s former art teacher at Eisenhower High School in Blue Island.Hart remembers Meza as “the kind of student every teacher hopes for.”“She is driven to create and her work underlies a passion and curiosity that is infectious,” Hart said.“She was an artist when she walked into my room and she remains committed to her work today.Daily SouthtownTwice-weeklyNews updates from the south suburbs delivered every Monday and Wednesday“Her work lines the hallway on the third floor of Eisenhower. It’s a great reminder of our kids’ potential.” Meza was equally enthusiastic about her experience at the Blue Island school.“They had very amazing teachers who actually cared about the craft and they were very encouraging,” she said.After high school, Meza did odd jobs, including waitressing and working at a coffee shop, and received a bachelor’s degree from the American Academy of Art and getting a job with Young Rembrandts.She’s also led art classes for adults and kids through the Salvation Army.“I feel like it’s very fulfilling,” said Meza.“I’ve learned to really love kids through it.… I’ve been able to see them express themselves.“They’ll say, ‘I never knew I liked art until I took this class.’”Janice Neumann is a freelance reporter for the Daily Southtown.

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