Young voices rang out about the dangers of lead poisoning as the children of the Norris Apartments Community Center sung the “Lead Poisoning Prevention” song in celebration of the “Lead Harms” mural dedication.
Rich in color, the mural combines a series
of images that capture both the threats and prevention methods of childhood lead poisoning. The mural was painted on the front wall of the community center building, tucked behind Anderson and Gladfelter Halls at 11th and Berks streets.
“One end of [the mural] I set up images of the problem and on the other end is what you can do about the problem, like eating fruits and vegetables,” said the mural’s designer, Cliff Eubanks, about his vision of the overall design at the dedication Oct. 27.
“I’m really satisfied with the way all of these images came together.” A large paintbrush and a box of crayons are painted on the side of the building and extend the length of the wall, signifying the common sources of lead poisoning.
A ventilation-masked painter is painted on the center of the wall, separating the images of a child’s hands cupping a bar of soap on the far left and a young boy cautioning a little girl from putting a crayon in her mouth on the far right.
Initially, there was a lot of discussion about what should be painted on the wall, said Diane Gass, the president of the Tenant Council of Norris Homes. The original design did not incorporate children from the community and included images that did not identify with the Norris Homes community, explained Gass.
“If you are going to represent the community, you have to put what the community relates to,” said Gass, who worked to ensure that the community center’s children were featured in the final design.
“When you get the kids involved and put their pictures up, they are going to protect it … and preserve what you are putting forward,” Gass said.
Wade Williams, who assisted Eubanks in painting the mural, led a series of workshops on mural painting for children in the Norris Homes after-school program.
Williams photographed the children during these sessions in order to capture them in the mural.
Williams even allowed many of children to paint parts of the mural.
“We let them practice painting on a large piece of paper first and the ones with the steadiest hand and eagerness, I let them do it,” Williams said.
Although initially indifferent about the mural’s creation, 13-year-old Norris Homes resident Tianesha Furlow said she had fun helping paint the wall, especially when she was selected to be in the mural.
“Everyone got to paint the wall,” Furlow said. “But when they told us that we were going to get painted … I was actually happy that they were painting the mural.”
The mural, coordinated by the Philadelphia
Mural Arts Program, is a memorial to the collaborative effort of the Tenant Council of Norris Homes, Temple Health Connection (now called the Philadelphia Health Management Corporation), National Nursing Centers Consortium and the Philadelphia Department of Public Health’s Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program to eliminate lead poisoning in the Norris Homes community.
“We’ve worked hard to get to where we are now and to have a mural that is representing all of us in the community makes us feel extra proud,” Gass said on behalf of the Norris Homes Tenant Council.
Nancy Rothman, one of the Philadelphia Health Management Corporation program directors and a professor in Temple’s department of nursing, said the mural also serves as a celebration of the former Temple Health Connection’s 10th anniversary of providing healthcare and wellness outreach to the residents of Norris Homes.
“We are part of Temple’s commitment to Norris Homes,” Rothman said.The mural is also a dedication to the hard work and commitment of Richard Tobin, the director of CLPPP nearly 37 years ago. A portrait
of Tobin is also featured in the mural.
Tobin’s involvement was propelled by staggering rate of childhood death due to lead poisoning in Philadelphia. He said he was particularly moved by the death of a child during his first lead poisoning case.
He also said he was surprised by his appearance in the mural, noting that there are several other people who should be commemorated for their involvement in CLPPP.
“It is a really great honor,” Tobin said of the portrait. “It shows that people really appreciated what I did for all those years.”
Malaika Carpenter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.