It was hard not to notice the gang signs marking the side of a garage across from the baseball field at Kelly Park where the Brighton Kelly Baseball League holds its practices and games.
“It stuck out like a sore thumb,“ said Leo Jacquez, a league coach and a 38-year-old Brighton Park resident. “Some of the kids started asking me what they [referring to the gang signs] meant, and if a 10-year-old is asking about something like this it is obviously affecting them.”
Jacquez said he could no longer ignore the gang-related graffiti, but instead of simply painting over the markings (which he noted the garage owners have done several times), he and other members of the Brighton Kelly Baseball League decided to use it as an opportunity to do something for the community by creating a mural.
“Our goal is to send a message to everyone in the [Brighton Park] community that this is our park, our children and our community,” Jacquez said. “We are reclaiming our park.”
As a longtime resident of the neighborhood, Jacquez said the Brighton Kelly Baseball League, which started more than 60 years ago, has always been a big part of the community.
The league consists of 12 teams and more than 150 children from the community. Jacquez also said the league is managed by people who volunteer their time to help coach and mentor the players.
“It really helps the kids escape from the violence and gangs in the community,” he said. “For me, it’s no other feeling like seeing a kid I coached grow up to do positive things.”
The league chose young artists Noel Godinez and David Barrera, who both attend Kelly High School directly across the street from the park, to create the baseball-themed mural.
Barrera, a member of the baseball league from age 8 to 12, said he is happy to be working with his former team again.
“This shows the progress that the team has had,” the 16-year-old Brighton Park resident said. “I think that once everyone sees the mural, they're going to see the impact that the team has on the community, because not just any team would do something like this.”
Godinez, a 16-year-old Back of the Yards resident, said while working on the mural the group has had no problems with people writing over their work and thinks the mural could be an effective method to stop gangs from vandalizing the wall in the future.
“Covering up graffiti how the city does it doesn’t really help,” Godinez said. “I think [a mural] is the best way to end it because when they see that other people in the community are trying to do something, they’ll respect that more than just covering [the gang signs] up and know that there’s boundaries.”
Jacquez said the Brighton Kelly Baseball League will unveil the finished mural at its trophy day/ cookout event at Kelly Park, which starts at 10 a.m. Aug. 10.
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