Graffiti, Native Traditions Converge in Life-Changing Trip for Chicago’s UCAN Youth

Thanks to a fusion of the graffiti art movement and Lakota culture, this summer promises to be an experience of a lifetime for 15 at-risk youth receiving care and support through United Church of Christ-related UCAN in Chicago.

The youth will participate in the Cheyenne River Youth Project’s third annual RedCan Graffiti Jam, June 29-July 1 in Eagle Butte, S.D. The festival brings together acclaimed graffiti artists from across the country to create art on the reservation landscape.

“RedCan presents an opportunity for youth in UCAN’s Violence Intervention and Prevention Services –– mostly high school aged, African-American males –– to meet and partner with Native American youth,” said Ann Kniola, UCAN’s director of development. “It will be a transformative experience for UCAN youth, as they explore a new culture, go camping in the wilderness, and create graffiti art.”

While the two groups live in “wildly different geographies –– the urban west side of Chicago and a rural reservation the size of Connecticut –– they share many of the same struggles: deep poverty and limited economic opportunities, gangs, drugs, and violence,” said Kniola.

The experience will be especially eye opening for the Chicago youth, she said, because many of them have difficulty leaving their own neighborhoods due to gang boundary lines.

In addition to meeting and sharing experiences with Lakota youth, participants will learn graffiti art techniques and participate in beautifying Eagle Butte, a town located in the poorest county of the United States. One of the venues will be the Waniyetu Wowapi Art Park, an innovative, free public art space dedicated to graffiti, street art, and traditional Lakota painting. The Cheyenne River community calls the park “a gathering place where positive self-expression, storytelling, reconciliation and healing take place for all.”

The trip is the brainchild of UCAN employee Nicole Seaton, who has been volunteering with the Cheyenne River Youth Project since 1999, and Haman Cross, a UCAN youth development coach who also is a graffiti artist. “We’re planning to leave on June 26 to give us a little extra time to get to South Dakota and take in some of the sites,” said Seaton.

The UCAN Auxiliary Board is spearheading the fundraising for the trip to RedCan. Its recent “Share the Love” gathering Feb. 9 raised more than $3,000. The board is working to secure additional donations to fund the trip.

UCAN is a CHHSM-member ministry whose mission is to build strong youth and families through compassionate healing, education and empowerment. Founded more than 145 years ago by St. Pauls UCC as a Civil War orphanage, UCAN is one of Chicago’s oldest and most innovative social service agencies. Currently, it serves more than 11,600 at-risk children, youth and families across Illinois.

Watch a short documentary about the RedCan Graffiti Jam.

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