Rainier Valley Welcomes New 100 Foot Mural Inspired by Journey of Foster Youth

by Marcus Harrison Green

No matter how gloomy Seattle’s fall days may get those headed northbound on Martin Luther King Way from Columbia City will be able to gaze upon perpetual blue sky and sunshiny smiles of children, as South Seattle welcomed a vibrant 100 foot long mural on Thursday morning.

Designed by Seattle native Megan Myers and painted by foster and adjudicated youth from Urban Artworks, the 104 foot long by 10 feet high “A Journey of Love” mural was unveiled yesterday in a small ceremony at the new offices of Amara, a non-profit foster care agency.

“I’m thrilled about what this brings to the community. It’s so beautiful,” said Jewel Howard as she took photos of the mural.

Her daughter Jayla was one of 16 youth connected with Urban Art Works who worked on the new installation. The public art space program paid the teens to hand paint the mural depicting four ethnically diverse children as they navigate a magical Dr. Seuss-esque realm filled with origami cranes, amiable fish, and majestic whales who shepherd them through each of the mural’s ten panels.

Teens from Urban ArtWorks paint mural panels prior to their instillation. Photo by Austin Wilson

“Each new environment [the children] enter presents them with a world of possibilities, love, and even a little magic – the spirit of childhood. Above all, this artwork confidently defines the energy around transitions as reinforcing, safe, affirming, and beautiful,” said Myers, whose design beat out dozens of others, including an entry from Italy. The painter said her piece attempted to capture the essence of the journey a foster care child takes along their path to permanent placement with a family.

Myers design received a unanimous vote from Amara staff, and some of its foster care alumni, in part because it best reflected the rich diversity of the South End community Amara become a part of after moving into its new headquarters at 5907 Martin Luther King Way from Madrona a year ago, according to Trey Rabun, Amara Family Outreach Specialist. 

“The mural is saying to the outside community that we’re here, and that we welcome you to come in,” said Rabun.

For Amara, the mural also serves as a tool in the organization’s recruitment effort of foster care parents of color from around South Seattle. The organization, which was recently the subject of a series on the state’s Foster Care System produced by Crosscut, is attempting to address the imbalance of children of color in the system relative to their percentage of the general populace.

According to Rabun, there are twice as many African American children in the foster care system as there are in the general population of Washington, and 3.4 times as many Native American children.

“A Journey of Love” is the second mural unveiled in the Rainer Valley in as many weeks, joining one next to the Mt. Baker Art Lofts on Rainier Avenue completed last week as part of the Mt. Baker Hub Festival.

Thursday’s unveiling was the culmination of the year-long transformation of Amara’s new headquarters. The space, located at the midpoint of the Columbia City and Othello light rail stations, was previously a tow yard.

It didn’t take too many land renovations for the organization, which has placed more than 4,000 children in permanent homes, to discover a home for the mural.

 “We cleaned out blackberry bushes covering this large retainer wall, and we immediately thought art should go there,” said Amara Executive Director John Morse, during a reception held for the mural at Amara’s offices that attracted local business owners and community organizers.

“Had it not been for a program like this I wouldn’t be here,” said Theo Martin, who shared his story of being placed in 14 different foster homes during the reception.

Martin who provided food for the evening from his restaurant Island Soul, said he expected the new instillation to become a landmark for the surrounding neighborhoods of Columbia City and Hillman City.

As the evening’s traffic moved slowly down Martin Luther King Way, the mural appeared to brighten a few days at the very least. At the end of the mural’s ceremony, a few drivers could be seen momentarily gawking as they passed by, widening grins forming across their faces.

Featured image by Austin Wilson