For Those Lost To Violence, Hazelwood Exhibit Celebrates The Futures That Could Have Been

May 18, 2017

Theresa Finn’s son, Jamar, was murdered nearly five years ago. She said it’s getting harder to deal with every day.

“Somebody shot through the window and killed my baby instantly. What I told people is that everyone is suffering. It [isn’t] just the moms,” Finn said. “When you take somebody’s life, it affects everybody, the whole community.”

Last week, Finn attended a preview of a new exhibit at Center of Life in Hazelwood called "I Lived, We Live, What Did We Miss?"

Theresa Finn, with her niece, at the Center of Life's new exhibit.
Credit Virginia Alvino Young / 90.5 WESA

It celebrates the history of Hazelwood and the lives of young people who have been killed in the community.

“Loosely, we thought of the five different components of your house,” said Dylan Vitone, an associate professor at Carnegie Melon University’s School of Design. His class partnered with families in Hazelwood to tell their stories and design the exhibit.

“We have the attic over here, which is the place where you keep history,” he said.

The space showcases old photographs and relics from the neighborhood, and the steel industry it once supported. There’s also the “kitchen,” complete with a table to gather around to talk.

The white alter represents the bedroom, an intimate space. The left wall showcases personal artifacts that families have saved, like their loved ones’ tennis shoes and sun glasses, as well as photographs. The entire right wall is covered with empty picture frames.

“For the memories that never happened,” Vitone said.

Lastly, the “front porch” features a board facing out into the community, where families can gather support from friends and neighbors.

The exhibit was the brainchild of Tim Smith, executive director of the nonprofit Center of Life, and pastor of its church.

“We run a basketball league here,” Smith said. “There are some kids that have come up over the years that I’ve had to bury. They were all black boys between the ages of 14 and 26.”

He said one day he noticed the names of two of those boys written in chalk on the basketball court.

“And it hit me,” he said. “There are mothers in the community saying that they don’t want us to forget their kids. It wasn’t like we were trying to recognize them as heroes or criminals, we just wanted to remember the fact that they lived. Mothers were strapping teddy bears to telephone poles and balloons. There was no real dignified place to recognize their children.”

A pair of shoes, sunglasses and a family photo rest on a display at "I Lived, We Live, What Did We Miss?"
Credit Virginia Alvino Young / 90.5 WESA

 Pamela Glass was one of those Hazelwood residents who gave input on the exhibit. Her nephew, Anthony Ward Hamilton, was murdered in 1995. A framed photograph and newspaper clipping about his murder sit on a shelf by the altar.

She said Hazelwood has always been a good community.

“We just wanted to let people know there’s a lot of things about Hazelwood other than what you hear in the news media,” she said. “The negativity, the enormous amount of people that have been killed in the area, young people.”

Kim Allen worked closely with the CMU students to help them understand the community. Her brother was murdered in 2009. Smith gave his eulogy.

“It’s phenomenal,” Allen said of the exhibit. “Nobody would have seen it coming. It’s so beautiful.”

She said it could provide the closure that some people in the community still need.

“I think that it’ll give some people, that have an issue with moving forward, to give them a chance to sit still,” she said. “You have to, and just wrap your arms around everything that just took place, and then move forward. You’ll know when it’s your time.”

The exhibit officially opens to the public at Center of Life in Hazelwood on May 20.