Honoring civil rights leaders

Bryan Wroten

Volunteers celebrate history with gumball mural

J’leigha McKinney, 6, came to the King Kennedy Community Center in Ravenna yesterday to participate in the creation of a mural of the images of Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. Franz Spohn, a nationally reknowned artist, created the mural out of gu

Credit: Ben Breier

A mural of Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks only needed 14,300 colored gumballs. But it took an entire community to make it.

In celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the King Kennedy Community Center hosted artist Franz Spohn and his gumball mural. The mural was of King and Parks standing together in 1955.

To make a mural, Spohn said he first finds a picture that lends itself to gumballs. Because he only uses eight colors, he said this can be difficult. He uses Adobe Photoshop to change the picture so that he can use the colored gumballs to represent the pixels.

In this case, Spohn said he had to colorize the picture himself because the original picture of King and Parks is in black and white.

“I had to turn off one-half of my brain and turn on the other,” he said.

Spohn had the children volunteers do most of the work of putting the gumballs in the tubes according to color order on strips of paper assigned to each tube. He said he would need about 130 gumballs for each tube and 110 vertical tubes for completion.

He said he usually adds about 100 gumballs more than necessary because people will sneak a few. Usually, Spohn said it is the adults who are the worst offenders and the kids are more respectful of the project.

“I make a deal with them,” he said. “I don’t eat their crayons, and they don’t eat my gum.”

Still, Spohn said he expects people to chew the gum. He said he’d be sadistic to put all this candy in front of people and not let them have some.

The community center’s board of advisers and Spohn planned this event for about a year, program director Sandra McKinney said.

At first, McKinney said she wasn’t sure what to make of the idea of a gumball mural.

“It was like, ‘yeah, right,'” she said. “I thought it would be a lot of gum to chew.”

After the idea was explained to her, McKinney said she was excited and wanted to help.

So did everyone else.

The sign-in sheet at the door listed 101 volunteers. The room was packed with kids, ranging from knee-high size to college students. Fourth-grader Melia Romine and her mother Renee made three tubes. Melia said when she heard about the mural, she thought people would end up eating it.

Her mother, who works at Kent State, said the center is an important part of the community.

George Garrison, professor of Pan-African Studies, is the president of the community center’s board of advisers. He said the creation of the mural is a lesson in community harmony, something King supported.

He said the mural should help kick off fundraising for the community center. To do this, he said they will need to raise about $300,000.

“I hope that the young people here as well as the adults remember that one of Dr. King’s goals is very achievable,” Garrison said. “And that’s harmony. It is possible for people to live together and work together to achieve common goals.”

Contact religion and minority affairs reporter Bryan Wroten at [email protected].