Our second paint day was long anticipated with over 200 reservations online and a range of others who came during our two-hour session. There were many groups who heard about the event through social media and thought it was a great idea to come out. As one of the project coordinators for the project, I began to simply ask participants a question out of curiosity. What brought you out to the mosque today?
There was a Lateefa, a Girl’s Scouts leader who found this to be the perfect event for her scouts to earn their painting badge. Moving along, I met members from an interfaith group from Old St. Joseph’s Church who thought it would be a fun interfaith activity. I noticed Rafi Levine who worked on the Doorways to Peace Project in 2004 who came to join us again with group from the National Museum of Jewish American History. Another group from PCOM called in advance and wanted this event to help fulfill their community service hours. There was a baker from West Philadelphia, Al from Fikira bakery who loved the idea of this community effort and not only did she want to participate, she wanted to donate some of her artisan breads and pastries. There was another group I discovered from our FB event page from the Youth Empowerment and Urban Studies. Although our regulars from the mosque, Artwell and Mural Arts were on hand, there were many first time visitors who simply seen the event posted online and thought it would be a fun family-friendly event.
A few days ago I happened to bump into Shira Walinsky, a Mural Arts artist and educator at UPenn who just so happened to instruct her students to attend our event, be it for extra credit! So I’m sure there must have a been a few UPenn students as well!
Most importantly, I saw beautiful faces of families who brought their children to have a good time. They found the event posted on the social media and thought it would be fun to visit a mosque and paint. What they really appreciated were the extra activities Artwell provided. There were stations like a Children’s Art Corner with activities like paper mosaic banners, peace flag making, coloring, and writing on post it about what community means to them. Al Aqsa’s henna artists even decided to start making henna tattoos for those who wanted one.
Our Aqsa Youth Club were very active inviting and serving refreshments. I noticed that they were telling people to stop upon entering. When I asked why they were stopping them rather than directing them to the sign up table, they said, “They must stop and have a snack! We want them to enjoy the free food!” Hospitality is part of the Arab & Islamic culture, but I also believe they were amused at simply passing out the pretzels, pastries, and fruits.
Upon meeting various participants, I was introduced to a person who was very familiar with this building. Randy Schaff, who happens to be Joe Brenman’s cousin used to come here when it was his grandfather’s furniture warehouse! Randy could recall coming to the furniture showrooms which are now the mosque prayer halls. They were given a private tour from the bottom of the building to the top. Randy and his wife Jodi were guided through this old familiar building which has now became a mosque, full time school, with offices, a small restaurant/market and bookstore. Jodi couldn’t believe how the building has transformed so drastically. Overall, Randy and Jodi were impressed and happy that it has become a place of worship which brings people together like this.
Thankfully, everyone had a wonderful time. So many expressed the positive energy and warmth in they felt in the space. Great conversations sparked, new relationships developed, and so many people were connecting through art and companionship. They thanked us for allowing them to join us and asked when the next community day would be!
I truly believe it is one of the most effective ways for people to come together. It provides the opportunity for people to learn about each other on a personal level through art and dialogue. If we can simply take the time to know the “other” then so many misconceptions can be eliminated and truth can be discovered. Often times we realize the richness in our various cultures or faith traditions, yet also find many common goals and aspirations.
We will keep everyone posted for another community painting day very soon!