By Karen Wells | CNA Media Team
Three six-pane doors capped with three seven-pane half moon windows signal the formal entrance to McMenamins Kennedy School. Late afternoon western sunlight illuminates the lobby.
These windows weren’t always bright with sunlight. When the school closed in 1975, the windows were boarded up and fell into disrepair. The building became an eyesore.
Isaka Shamsud-Din, (pronounced E sa ka Shem sue Deen) a former Concordian – along with his wife, son and a team of artists – took charge. They created a beautification project for the school building windows prior to the building’s renovation.
Led by Isaka, they created vibrant designs on the boards with bold colors and sweeping strokes. Each painted wood panel was unique and kept the windows safe from vandalism. This project launched a 15-year working relationship between Mike McMenamin and Isaka.
The Kennedy School project wasn’t the first time Isaka used his skills for the greater good of his community. A story teller, historian, educator, muralist and activist, his work has chronicled the African-American experience in the Northwest for more than 50 years.
Each of his pieces highlights the importance of perseverance, hope, education, remembering African-American history and contributions to the fabric of the American experience.
His current projects include launching a Go Fund Me campaign: “Juneteeth Calendar – Celebrating the Black Experience,” an 18-month engagement and history calendar. Isaka is collaborating with Pacific Northwest College of Art and Don’t Shoot Portland to host a night of social justice art and auction Dec. 1 from 6 to 9 p.m. at Pacific Northwest College of Art. He is also actively gathering community support for the restoration and preservation of his 1989 mural, “Now is the Time, the Time is Now.”
Editors note: If you’d like to know more about this mural and/or artist, Karen shares her resources online. Visit ConcordiaPDX.org/ KennedySchoolMurals.
Karen Wells is a retired early childhood community educator, health and safety trainer.