This term, Kiana Miller ’16 has been working a few hours here and there to finish a mural outside the Girls Inc. chapter of the Greater Capital Region. An active volunteer for Girls Inc. since her sophomore year, Miller took on the project when she found the building vandalized with graffiti, per the Union College Chronicle.
Miller is pursuing a double major in Studio Fine Arts and Africana studies, and performs extensive community service in both the Schenectady region and on campus. Currently, she acts as Community Service Chair of Tri-Delta and co-President of the Heavenly Voices Gospel Choir. Miller also throws herself into her academics, soon to be inducted into her third honor society.
According to their website, Girls Inc. is a non-profit education program for young women across the United States and Canada that specializes in hands-on mentoring relationships and tutoring. Miller grew up in the Bronx volunteering at similar organizations, and now teaches spoken poetry at Girls Inc. with her own lesson plans.
Ben Lucas: How did you make this mural possible?
Kiana Miller: The wall on the side of Girls Inc. had been defaced for a while, but they finally got a fence so that the girls can use the space and outsiders can see the wall, but anyone planning to deface the wall could not get through. After they got the fence, they wanted the wall to be painted in order to make it a nice space for the girls to come outside.
Once I heard (about the request), I rounded up some art students from Union and got input from the girls to come up with designs. The design idea came from their motto: “inspire all girls to be strong smart and bold.” My designs, and the designs of John F. ’15, were liked the most.
Unfortunately, funding for the mural was not available until after John graduated, so I combined our ideas and created the mural. The funding went (towards) paint and the paintbrushes.
BL: What kind of planning went into filling a space that big?
KM: The combination of my design and John’s did not fill the space at all, so I went downstairs and found inspiration in the quotes in their building. The quote that I liked the most was “fuel her fire” and “she will change the world.” So part of my idea came from that.
The last part is trees, which can’t be seen well in the picture, and that is because I believe that all of these girls are growing from a seed into something wise and powerful, and that Girls Inc. helps to fertilize the soil that they grow from.
BL: As a Studio Fine Arts major, is painting/canvas your primary medium?
KM: My primary medium has actually been relief printmaking but I most enjoy drawing and painting.
BL: You’ve worked with a number of community centers and done a lot of volunteer teaching. What kind of work does this entail for you?
KM: I have taught spoken word for girls in the community. All this entails is coming up with lesson plans related to the performance and the writing, but what it really entails is listening and letting them know that their story matters, because it does, and letting them know that they are respected and appreciated.
BL: Per the statement you gave to The Chronicle, how did the young women you worked with help with your self-esteem?
KM: The girls didn’t help with my self-esteem. The work I did with a girls program similar to Girls Inc. helped with my self-esteem because when I was involved, they pushed me to do spoken word and perform it. And in performing it I felt more powerful, but I also felt like I wasn’t alone. Sometimes the best feeling is when you perform a poem and someone comes up to you and thanks you, or agrees with what you are saying. My self-esteem was lifted because I knew that what I had to say was important.
Correction, Oct. 29, 2015: An earlier version of this article misidentified Kiana Miller as Vice President of Multicultural Affairs. She was once Vice President of Multicultural Affairs, but she left the position.