It took two years to complete, but a mural project that student Emory Stouffer spearheaded documents the history, and the changes, at Alexandria City High School, from integration to the pandemic and beyond.
Stouffer, a senior, said the Black Lives Matter protests that rang through DC in 2020 and 2021, as well as the mobilization of students at his school to change the school’s name so it no longer honored segregationist T.C. Williams, motivated him.
“It really sparked a lot in me,” Stouffer says. “My school is literally one of the most diverse schools in the U.S., from what I know, with a majority of African American and Hispanic ethnicities. I thought, with all these events going on, as well as just wanting to create something that reflects our school’s history, then a mural might be the best way to go about it.”
The mural, unveiled last Friday in a second-floor hallway, documents moments from the school’s history, including the integration of the school and its first graduating class, in 1967; the 1971 state football championship and the Denzel Washington film Remember the Titans that dramatized it; the COVID-19 pandemic; the 2020 girls’ volleyball state championship; and the Minnie Howard Campus, which will open in 2024.
“I really wanted to show my passion for showing what the school means to our community, and just show future generations of students that you’re surrounded by a community that cares about you, and is built on diversity and adversity, that has come up from the ground up, and has worked so hard to be the very diverse community that it is today,” he says.
It Takes a Team
Stouffer didn’t have a lot of art experience before he took on this mural as his Eagle Scout project. “Before this, I had only taken Art 1, and a ceramics class my junior year,” he says. The project involves running a team, and Stouffer had a lot of help. Assistant principal Mark Eisenhour and Tabitha Eller, one of the art teachers, and about 35 art students helped Stouffer turn his drawings and ideas into the finished product.
“A lot of it is management and leadership. And so that aspect of it was me taking control over all the student artists and making sure that they knew what they were doing, and reaching out to people to help out,” Stouffer says.
Stouffer credits Eisenhour, a graduate of the school, for his knowledge of its history, and Eller for keeping the project manageable.
“Initially, there was this one stretch of wall that was about 35 feet long, and probably like 7 feet tall. And I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is perfect.’ … And looking back on it, I was absolutely out of my mind.”
Eller told him “No. There’s absolutely no way you’re going to paint that big of a wall,” Stouffer remembers.
But two years later, he can look back at the length of time it took and say it “made the project so much more enjoyable, and so much more fun to celebrate, once it was done.”
He also was optimistic about the time frame: “So I got the project approved, and got the design sketched out on a piece of paper. And then once we had all that complete, I was like, ‘OK, sick — this is going to take like two weeks.’ It did not take two weeks.”
Looking Toward the future
Nearly every artist who contributed to the project turned out for the unveiling, as did the teachers and administrators who helped, and members of Stouffer’s scout troop.
“It was amazing to see all those people that contributed so much to the project all in one place.”
Stouffer will head to the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the fall to study environmental engineering and to participate in the Navy ROTC program, which is followed by at least five years in the Navy.
He’s not sure about future art projects: “For the time being, I would say I’m taking a hiatus. … I think I just need some time to recuperate and just think about what to say.”
But whatever happens, he’s made his mark on his school.
“I wanted to make a project that was pretty unconventional, and make it stand out and have it be meaningful,” he says. “A really, really hard impact that is going to keep impacting people for a very long time.”
Feature image courtesy Emory Stouffer
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