The representatives from Johnnie Cochran’s law firm stressed this morning that JC (yes, he did compare Cochran to the other JC) didn’t want to be remembered by his infamous statement during the OJ Simpson trial. Instead his legacy should be that of stressing the importance of education. In fact it was at this school, originally named Mt. Vernon Jr. High, that Cochran learned the art of debating. The reason for my visit to the school was to celebrate the unveiling of several new murals created by Raul Paulino Baltazar (Otis BFA ’09) and Melly Trochez (current MFT/Art Therapy student at LMU). Raul has extensive experience as an arts educator, particularly with at-risk youth, and completed the Teacher Credential Preparation track of the Artists, Community and Teaching Program at Otis, then under the direction of Jerri Allyn. Although he was not one of my students, I was eager to support him and see what he’s been working on for the last year.
The morning began with presentations by Principal Schmerelson, Johnnie Cochran lawyers (who volunteer time mentoring the schools aspiring debaters), and Raul and Melly. The two fielded questions from the audience of family, friends, press, teachers and most notably “the top” students at the school who will be trained to give murals tours to their peers. One student apologized on behalf of the school for those who threw rocks and soda bottles at the muralists while they began their project. Apparently, once Raul and Melly engaged the students and community in the planning of the mural, they gained their respect and as evidenced by the tour of the school. One school security guard remarked “Isn’t our school wonderful? The students no longer deface it with graffiti!”
All and all the presentations were inspiring and encouraging. The principal referring to Raul and Melly as “World Famous Artists,” the Buddhists monks chanting in front of “The Five Harmonious Friends or Brothers” mural, and Raul encouraging the students to touch the mural on the basketball quart as a gesture of good luck. However, I was surprised by Melly’s choice of words when she tried to encourage female students to push themselves, by stating that through this emotionally and physically draining process she learned “I have my limits. I can’t do everything a man can do.” And I was disappointed to see a few low res images and at least one typo in the brochure produced by Hugo Hopping, who’s supposed to also produce a catalog for the project. But those minor details did not detract from the overall experience of the colorful and complex designs, with diverse symbolism and styles, representing the rich diversity of both Los Angeles and the student body at Johnnie L. Cochran Middle School.
Appointments can be made to see the murals by contacting Principal Scott M. Schmerelson (323.730.4315). You can also call or email Raul himself, but I won’t post his contact info here.