“Aiming for affirmation: Artist Michael Aghahowa hopes to inspire youth of Lynn” (The Daily Item)
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“Aiming for affirmation: Artist Michael Aghahowa hopes to inspire youth of Lynn” (The Daily Item)



LYNN — Despite the heat, a crowd of people came together Wednesday morning to witness the dedication of local artist Michael Aghahowa’s latest mural, “Affirmations to my Community,” at 95 Pleasant St.


Aghahowa collaborated with SPUR, a nonprofit organization based in Marblehead, on the mural and teamed up with former KIPP Academy students Sal Castillo and Elisha Torres.


After they spent about five months working on the piece, it was ready to be shown to the public.


“As I was putting it up yesterday, so many people were walking by — families, little kids. Reading the affirmations and just hearing them say these things is exactly what I wanted. So, to know that I executed the plan… that feels good,” Aghahowa said.


The mural was inspired by the theme of graduation. Aghahowa, Castillo, and Torres aimed to inspire people, especially the city’s youth, who pass by the mural, and convey the idea that any challenge can be overcome.


The location of the mural was chosen strategically to be in close proximity to three schools  — KIPP Academy, St. Mary’s, and the Lynn Vocational Technical Institute  — and the Demakes Family YMCA.


Kimberly Nothnagel, SPUR’s director of communications and community relations, said that Downtown Lynn deserves the mural.


“This place deserves this. It deserves this level of celebration and excitement. It’s a reflection of all of the things that it can be and has been and will be in the future. That’s the best part,” Nothnagel said. “It’s hard not to feel so enthusiastic about this.”


Torres, who recently graduated from KIPP and will be attending Boston University, had always been into art, but started taking it seriously in middle school. Her art teacher reached out and told her that Aghahowa was interested in her artwork and said she should connect with him on the mural.


“We worked together on the concept of the mural, and it went through a lot of changes over time,” Torres said. “It ended up like this and I think it’s really beautiful, and I’m really glad we worked together because we all brought different skills to the table.”


Artist Elisha Torres signs the “Affirmations to my Community,” mural.


One part of the mural depicts three community leaders to show the city’s youth that being in a position of power and leadership in Lynn is possible.


“In depicting Lynn’s first African American executive director of Lynn Museum/LynnArts, Doneeca Thurston; Nicole McClain, the first Black woman elected to the Lynn City Council; and Natasha Megie-Maddrey, the first Afro Latina elected to the Lynn City Council, the mural underscores the attainability of positions of influence for Lynn’s youth,” Aghahowa wrote in an artist’s statement for the mural.


“I am very honored to be a part of a piece that is speaking to our community about its greatness,” McClain said. “I am thankful to Michael for making me a part of it.”


McClain also described what the mural means to her in a Facebook post.


“This mural speaks! For me, it speaks of dreams! Dreams deferred, dreams never to be forgotten, and dreams that have yet to be realized. Thank you for sharing your gift with the City of Lynn and with everyone that collaborated with you on this effort!” McClain wrote.


Artists Elisha Torres and Michael Aghahowa stand with, from left, Executive Director of Lynn Museum/LynnArts Doneeca Thurston-Chavez, City Councilor Natasha Megie-Maddrey, and City Councilor-at-Large Nicole McClain, who are all featured in their mural, “Affirmation to my Community.”


A bee on the mural symbolizes Jason Cruz of Raw Art Works, who has mentored the city’s youth since 1994.


“His belief in the transformative power of public art inspired my own journey as an artist, shaping my understanding of art as both a career and a means of community empowerment,” Aghahowa wrote in the artist’s statement.


A detail of Michael Aghahowa’s latest mural in Lynn, “Affirmations to my Community.”


The mural not only celebrates the achievements of people in the city’s community, but also mourns the loss of four young men — Abraham Diaz, Jandriel Heredia, Kyle Mel, and Isaiah Acevedo — who died in late 2023 as a result of gun violence. Aghahowa said their inclusion was intended to make people reflect and possibly prevent tragedies such as these from happening in the future.


“I feel great, I feel whole, I feel full,” Aghahowa said. “I feel honored to be able to represent what I represent and to be able to commemorate the young men that passed, and to see the families’ reactions. They said thank you and that they’re so honored and that the feeling is definitely mutual because they gave me their blessing to put their loved ones on there.”


The family of Jandriel Heredia stand with Lynn artist Michael Aghahowa, who’s mural “Affirmations to my Community,” honors Heredia, who lost his life to gun violence in 2023.


For the mural, SPUR Enrichment Director Luisa Boverini reached out to Al Wilson, founder and CEO of Beyond Walls, to get Aghahowa’s phone number.


“We identified Michael mainly because he’s from Lynn, knows a lot of people in Lynn, was kind of an up and coming artist, and we definitely wanted it to be authentic and organic,” Boverini said.


In the future, SPUR plans to dedicate more murals around the city.


“Definitely these collaborations are so rewarding because the students really get a view of what it’s like to be an artist and to be able to make a living as an artist as well. They learn a lot in the process, and so that’s what’s so meaningful about the partnership model that SPUR has allowed me to do,” Boverini said.


The mural also had support from organizations such as the Massachusetts Cultural Council, Lynn Cultural Council, Primrose Foundation, and Gilson Family Foundation. Eliot Community Human Services also played a role in showcasing the mural.


Lynn artist Michael Aghahowa addresses the crowd during the dedication of his latest mural, “Affirmations to my Community.”

Cover Image: Lynn artist Michael Terrell Aghahowa addresses the crowd during the dedication of his latest mural in Lynn, “Affirmations to my Community,” which he completed with recent KIPP graduates Elisha Torres and Sal Castillo. (Spenser Hasak)

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