NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (WAVY) – Newport News’ East End often makes headlines for the wrong reason. But there are dedicated volunteers trying to change an image that’s often tarnished by violent crime, and they’re doing it through the creative process.
Asa Jackson, who sits on Virginia Commission for the Artsraises his voice to get the attention of a room full of teenagers.
“We’re going to be working on a project called the Icon Project.”
Icons are things worthy of honor. Perhaps a past life that shaped the present. Like W. Hale Thompson, a lawyer who joined Newport News Libraries. Jackson created a great image of the beloved civil rights activist, and he showed his work to his students just blocks from his classroom introduction. They listened to Jackson’s enthusiasm for Thompson’s work during the Jim Crow era.
“So if it weren’t for people like that who are brave and took action when no one else wanted or could, we could be in the same circumstances today.”
Jackson teaches history through his art. His work representing Thompson is on Jefferson Avenue and 25th Street, a few blocks from where Jackson grew up.
“Before the age of 30, my brother and I had lost over three dozen close personal friends, best friends to gun violence in this neighborhood here”
Jackson laments the plight of young people living on the streets.
“Dealing with the police, violence and drugs. It’s the pressure”
But Jackson is looking to help the next generation paint a different future, with the help of the Virginia Peninsula Boys and Girls Cluband the non-profit association Phoenix reborn. It is through this appreciation of the past that Jackson hopes to inspire children. Or maybe it’s someone here and now. For a young teenager, Kalilah Forest is Missy Elliot. But past icons can always take us to new places.
“And if you don’t have a direction to follow, you risk not arriving at your destination. You must have something to devote yourself to. You must have something that binds you.
These young minds therefore develop their creative vision by painting the icons of their lives. Asa Jackson believes the lessons of the past combined with a vision for the future is a powerful mix for all ages.