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Connecting Students and Communities Through the Arts

By Communities In Schools | Feb. 16, 2024

Communities In Schools® (CIS®) of Tennessee Program Manager Karimah Taylor is an artist and arts advocate based in Nashville, TN. Karimah’s love for art developed in high school when she started writing poetry.

I love the way that art allows you to express yourself. It is very healing and a healthy way to release emotions. I think the earlier children are exposed to art, the better it will help them make decisions and heal from the different things going on in their lives.

– Karimah Taylor, Program Manager at CIS of Tennessee

Being excited to go to school can be challenging for some students. They may be experiencing bullying or feel anxious about their safety due to the rise of gun-related violence in schools—three children and three adults lost their lives in a mass shooting at the Covenant School in Nashville in March 2023.

“I was talking to my husband about the anxiety students feel about coming to school because of the uncertainty of what each day will bring,” said Karimah, “That’s when I thought, what if we worked with students to create a mural with poetry so that when students come to school and see it, they get excited about being there, or maybe they're having a bad day, and they go look at the mural and are reminded it's going to be okay because art has the power to do that.”

Bringing Her Vision to Life

Karimah applied for and won a grant from the Metro Arts Commission to have a mural painted in three schools CIS of TN supports. The Program Managers at each school selected students to participate in the project. “I really wanted students who were more reserved or struggling in some way to work together,” said Karimah, “so they could see they have more in common than they realize.”

Karimah hired local muralists Phish, C3, and Arjae and assigned each of them to a school. The muralists and Karimah met with the students to discuss what message they wanted to give to their peers and what message they wanted to leave behind for future generations. The students then got to view the space where the mural would be in their school and started to sketch what the message of their mural meant to them. The muralists used the students' ideas and sketches to create a draft of the mural that was harmonious.

Working with these young artists and being able to be an avenue for expression is truly the highest honor.

– Arjae, Muralist

The three themes that inspired the student's murals were Be Yourself, Keep Going, and Never Give Up. Using the theme of each mural, Karimah and her husband each wrote a poem, and they wrote the third poem together. The poems are meant to inspire the reader not to give up, to remember who they are, and to embrace their unique determination. “I don’t get to serve every school, so my poetry is a way for me to leave an impression on every student who sees the murals,” said Karimah. “Now, they have some words from my husband and me that could resonate with them.”

The students and the school principal got to review the final sketch and make edits before giving approval. The muralist came back the week before winter break to get started on the mural and let the students help with some of the painting.

The Big Reveal 

The week before students returned from winter break, each school hosted a reveal of the mural at their school. The students who participated in the project and their family members were invited, along with community partners and school faculty, for a first exclusive look.  

I attended all three of the mural reveals, and my favorite part was seeing how proud the students' families were. They were just beaming with pride. 

– Kawema, Program Director at CIS of Tennessee 

“It was just beautiful to see the pride the students took, especially those who are more reserved and shyer,” said Karimah. “They were excited for their younger siblings to come to the school and know that they were a part of this project.”

Some kids need to dream BIG to achieve their goals; that was an important message we wanted students to know, and to know my brother will see this when he comes to this school and know I helped make it; it feels good.

– Elias, Student

Every kid gets a chance to see what we created, so it is nice I get to be a part of this.

– Estella, Student

“One parent texted me when the reveal was over and said she just wanted to say thank you because the student's grandfather had passed away, and all he wanted for his granddaughter was for her to draw more,” said Karimah. “I was so appreciative of the mom for saying that to me, and I was so happy that her daughter got to participate. I don’t know if the Program Manager knew their situation, and that's why the student was chosen, but it reminded me that this was bigger than just drawing; it meant something more to so many people. It made all of the work that went into this worth it.”


This mural captures the essence of excellence and legacy, immortalizing the stories that inspire us to reach higher and leave a lasting imprint on the next generation.

– Janelle Brooks, Executive Principal, Warner Arts Magnet Elementary School 

What’s Next? 

Karimah plans to apply again for the grant and hopes to one day see a mural in every school CIS of TN serves. “Art is so important because it's universal, and it is so healing. As a society, we share similar struggles, but we have all these things that tell us we’re so different,” said Karimah. “Just like with music, billions of people listen to the same song, and it makes them feel the same exact way, so it is a way to connect us all. That’s why I love working for CIS. I have the creative freedom to intertwine my passion into the work.” 

CIS site coordinators who are interested in implementing a project like this in their community should look into opportunities available through their State Arts Commission. 


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