'Color Me Back:' Philly homeless create life-changing art

Friday, June 14, 2019
Homeless given opportunity, create art in Philly
Homeless given opportunity, create art in Philly. Jeannette Reyes reports during Action News Mornings on June 14, 2019.

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Underground in a small studio in Suburban Station you'll find what at first glance looks like adults taking an art class.

But look closer and you'll see it goes far beyond the strokes of a paint brush.

"Art is truly a lifeline. It's a beginning," Jane Golden, Executive Director of Mural Arts Philadelphia, said.

Several weeks ago, Mural Arts Philadelphia and Mental Health Partnerships kicked off a 28-week pilot program called "Same Day Work."

For three hours of work and $50, those facing economic insecurity can take part in creating a mural.

A lottery is held every day to randomly choose 10 participants.

After each class, social and mental health services are made available.

Most of the participants are homeless or staying in a shelter, but some do have their own place.

"There's more to us than just asking for money," participant Becky Green said.

"It was awesome to be able to give back because I want people to see me doing something positive. I want to be a role model for a lot of people," participant Michael Belo said.

Participants came up with the name for the program. It's called 'Color Me Back' and the meaning behind it is profound.

"They said that by doing art, they are brought back to life. Isn't that wonderful?" Golden said. "Everyone, everywhere deserves to have art in their lives."

Lead teaching artist and North Philadelphia native Alvin Tull was involved in gangs as a child and struggled with addiction.

He is proof that art can save lives.

"The more that we're here, the more accomplishment that these individuals feel and it builds up their self-esteem. And it brings out something that we don't normally see in them and that is to care for one another," Tull said.

The first part of the mural is set to be completed by midsummer.