On Friday, June 17, residents and staff gathered at the Community Room of the Brigadier Hazel Johnson Veterans Center in the Sharswood section of North Philadelphia to unveil a permanent installation by artist Edwin Gil, his second at a HELP USA building.
The “Faces of Diversity” series features a mosaic mural with images inspired by current residents of Johnson Veterans Center, the newly opened affordable housing center which debuted to the public at a ribbon-cutting ceremony on May 11, 2022. Read more about the restoration of this former school and the inspired public-private partnership that made it possible here.
Artist Edwin Gil experienced homelessness as a child in Medellin, Colombia. Working on projects with HELP USA allows him to tell his story through art and represent others who have faced the challenges of housing insecurity. This shared experience makes the opportunity to display his art in the community room, a center for gathering and building connections, that much more impactful for the artist and the residents. They will enjoy it for years to come, courtesy of the funding received for the installation from The Amazin’ Mets Foundation in support of HELP USA’s veterans housing projects.
During a workshop, Gil explained his artistic process to a group of residents. Gil invited them to place their fingerprints on tiles incorporated into the final installation, memorializing the stories and journeys of these individuals.
“I highlight the importance of diversity within different communities,” said Gil. “We as humans have a lot of challenges around the world; people don’t accept others for who they are, they try to fix and change people, but I think the most beautiful thing we have as people is that diversity.”
Gil uses broken glass to signify that we all break many times in this life, have issues, and face adversity. But, these are the exact pieces that combine to make us each a masterpiece.
“We can make magic, I told them [the residents and staff.] It’s our choice to take all those bad things and use them to push ourselves to be better every day,” said Gil.
HELP USA Property Manager Taleia Collins said, “The new mural is one of many things we are organizing to make the building a warm, welcoming home.” Collins is working with the building’s social service coordinator to schedule events and activities in the community room that will bring people together to connect and enjoy the art of Edwin Gil.