Mount Holyoke student’s mural celebrates women of color

Master of Arts in Teaching student Justin Griffin ’25 paints an inspiring and empowering mural at a middle school in Holyoke to celebrate women of color.

An image of empowerment greets students and staff daily at Lt. Clayre P. Sullivan Middle School, largely thanks to the efforts of one of the school’s teachers, Justin Griffin.

Spanning nearly twelve feet of wall near the main office of the school, a vibrant mural depicts three women of color, American activist , Afro-Puerto Rican novelist and professor , and Cambodian rights activist .

“Aside from how beautifully it is rendered, it is a constant reminder of the power and potential of the students we serve,” said Rue Ratray, principal of the middle school. “I think most students and staff feel that way.”

The mural, which was unveiled in May, was designed in collaboration with staff and students. Griffin ’25, who is in the Masters of Arts in Teaching program at Mount 51ֿ, led the creation of the artistry.

Representation matters

Looking back on his upbringing, Griffin says there are a number of historical figures, such as Albert Einstein or Mahatma Gandhi, that he could call upon that brought him inspiration and connection at school, such as Albert Einstein or Mahatma Gandhi. But that wasn’t the case for everyone.

According to Ratray, a student approached Griffin about wanting to see more people of color represented on the walls of Sullivan middle school.

This was right in Griffin’s wheelhouse. As a longtime artist who previously lived and worked in Costa Rica, he decided to move to the U.S. a few years ago for more opportunities to paint with intention.

“I saw that there was a need to bring more color into the hallways in a way that could also maybe inspire students, and I thought I could help with that,” said Griffin.

Students and faculty members researched people of color who could inspire and empower others to succeed, and ultimately, the students selected Arroyo Pizarro, Walker and Sochua.

“It speaks volumes about Justin that a student would approach him about this and that his reaction was to work to make this happen,” said Ratray. “This work has inspired others to create other murals in the school.”

Griffin estimates that the mural took around 40 hours to complete.

The mural was unveiled at a ceremony organized by Spanish language arts teacher Suhail Cantero with the assistance of Assistant Principal Maritza Rivera Freytes. Arroyo Pizarro, one of the three women depicted in the mural, joined the celebration and spoke to the crowd about diversity and empowerment.

Ratray said that Arroyo Pizarro’s speech served as “another reminder of the power of our community who believe so much in the power and potential of the students we serve.”

The event also featured a performance by Sullivan dance team members. Arroyo Pizarro also joined in the rhythmic dance.

“The mural is far more than just an artwork; it is a vibrant emblem of empowerment and a celebration of our community’s collaborative and resilient spirit,” Cantero said in a statement. “The unveiling ceremony was a deeply emotional affair, greatly enhanced by the beloved presence of Yolanda Arroyo Pizarro, who not only autographed the mural, but also shared words that deeply resonated with everyone, inspiring and uniting our community with every word.”

 

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  • Assistant Director, Public Affairs & Executive Communications