Mural about inclusion, acceptance defaced with hateful slur

by Andrew Alonzo |

Last month, students at Sycamore Elementary School in Claremont took part in a design contest for a new mural on a brick playground wall with the theme “building blocks of community.”

The aim of the schoolwide project, which was the brainchild of Sycamore parent Seth Pringle, was to create a work of art comprised of dozens of individual bricks, that when viewed from a distance combine to create a larger image in keeping with the theme.

Students voted the design from sixth-grader Avery Pringle — the 12-year-old daughter of the project’s pitchman — the best in the competition. It depicts a handshake between a Black hand and a white hand over a rainbow background. It portrays both equality and acceptance, themes from which she typically draws inspiration, Avery said.

The winning design was announced May 26. Avery said it was an honor to be chosen by her peers. “I didn’t really have high expectations,” she said. “I was extremely shocked.”

Avery, her younger sister June and parents Seth and Tara Pringle, along with friends and other Sycamore parents, began bringing the design to life over Memorial Day weekend.

But the plan took a turn when Avery’s mom Tara Pringle called the Courier Monday with an update: someone had vandalized the in-progress mural sometime between 4 p.m. Sunday and 12:30 p.m. Monday — the last known times someone had been working on it. The unknown culprit used a rock to carve the slur “fags” onto its surface.

Avery Pringle stands in front of the mural she designed for the school’s recent contest. Courier photo/Andrew Alonzo

“For a mural being rooted in inclusivity and love, we can’t even get the full thing put up before it becomes defaced with a hate-filled word,” Tara Pringle said, with palpable disappointment.

Avery was disappointed too, but didn’t shed a tear Monday, nor did she think twice about the incident.

“It doesn’t affect me that much,” Avery said. “It’s just stupid.”

By noon Monday, Avery had covered the hateful graffiti using red, black, and purple paint provided by The dA Center for the Arts in Pomona. Later that afternoon her father Seth Pringle completed the final touches.

Sycamore students flocked to see the mural Tuesday morning, with Principal Amy Stanger saying Avery did “a fantastic job.”

“Up close, you see each individual part. But as you get a little farther from it, certainly the beauty of each block melds together and you can see just that story of connection,” Stanger said. “I think this mural really conveys that message of respect and connection.”

Her father Seth Pringle isn’t just an art-loving Sycamore dad: he’s the Claremont Lewis Museum of Art’s associate director of exhibitions and collections.

“When I volunteered to help out with the mural, I wasn’t expecting that one of my kids would win, I just wanted there to be a kid designed mural for everybody to enjoy,” Seth Pringle said. “Her design is just really poignant. The handshake is a chance for connection and how to show social trust.”

Asked about the vandalism, Stanger said, “It’s nice to see her artwork endure. It seems clear that based on the location that it would have been an adult-sized body [that defaced the mural] not a student [-sized] body.”

The school does not have cameras focused on the mural area, and as such as of Tuesday had no leads as to the identity of the vandal.

All involved said they didn’t want the incident to overshadow the mural’s message.

Avery and Stanger share similar hopes: that Sycamore students and the community are inspired by the mural, accept and respect others, and preserve its message for years to come.

“That mural will be there a long time and that’s a day-to-day commitment to a community, day-to-day protection of making sure that we stand up with courage and respect for something,” Stanger said.

Avery, the plucky 12-year-old designer, says she’s going to hold on to the rock used to carve the hateful message as a keepsake.


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