Still Standing: Artist Celebrates Resilience of Chicago Youth

When Gerald Griffin was a freshman in high school, his family moved to the Pilsen neighborhood of Chicago where he began attending a brand new, fully equipped high school.

“I was in an English class, doodling when I should have been finishing my paper, and this girl looked over my shoulder and said, ‘That’s really nice. You should be our artist on the school newspaper,’” Griffin recalls.

The newspaper adviser then helped Griffin sign up for art classes. He went on to graduate from the Art Institute of Chicago and open his own gallery in Chicago.

Griffin credits his teachers for helping to start his career as an artist. Similarly, UCAN, a Chicago-based CHHSM member that helps children recover from abuse and neglect, is launching young people in new directions, Griffin says.

UCAN’s mission inspired Griffin to donate a painting for the organization’s new headquarters building.

“A lot of our destiny is tied to our environment,” Griffin says. “That different exposure created an entirely different paradigm for me. It’s that kind of idea that I hoped would be incorporated with the painting at UCAN.”

The painting, entitled “Still Standing,” shows a young African-American boy emerging from a scene of destruction, with dark clouds overhead and rubble on the ground.

“The piece is a reflection on the resiliency of the human spirit,” Griffin says. “It embodies the will to survive.”

African-Americans have survived great trauma over the years, he points out.

“The important aspect, in my opinion, is that this kid in the painting is still standing,” Griffin says. “The future offers unlimited possibilities. That should be the focus.”

Keefe Baines is an example of those whose lives have been turned around by UCAN programs. Baines was young, unemployed and had been in trouble with the law when he joined UCAN’s 360 Community program. The program provided him with a mentor, classes on finding and keeping a job, and even clothes for job interviews. He found employment, finished high school and has obtained his commercial driver’s license.

Griffin learned of UCAN’s work through his friend Claude Robinson, the organization’s executive vice president of external affairs and diversity. Griffin attended the grand opening of the new headquarters in the North Lawndale community in July, and when he saw the building, he immediately thought “Still Standing” would be perfect for the new space.

The painting supports UCAN’s vision that “youth who have suffered trauma can become our future leaders,” says UCAN President and CEO Zack Schrantz.

“We’re grateful and humbled that Gerald donated his beautifully moving ‘Still Standing’ canvas painting to UCAN,” Schrantz says. “It depicts the often imposing challenges that our youth face but emerge from with strength and purpose.”

The painting is more than just an artistic addition to the new building, Schrantz says.

“It represents who we are, what we do and the resiliency of our youth,” he says.

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