Kyle Holbrook has a photo from his youth with seven of his close friends — he is the only one left alive in the picture.
“Growing up in a neighborhood like that, I have drawings from when I was 14 where I was drawing drive-bys because that was my reality,” Holbrook says.
Holbrook’s reality growing up in Pittsburg was dotted with moments of gun violence, claiming the lives of dozens of friends and family members over the years.
“It’s been something I grew up with,” Holbrook says. “I grew up in a good home. Mom and dad were both teachers, we took trips. I was exposed to some different things. As soon as you leave home you’re exposed to that negative influence.”
After losing 43 loved ones to shootings, and after getting shot at himself multiple times, Holbrook has dedicated himself as an artist to create murals about gun violence across the world.
“I think it’s important to have public art that speaks to the issues that are relevant to the community that sees it every day,” Holbrook says.
His latest piece of art is part of a 50-state tour with the MLK Community Mural Project. Holbrook used a brush with acrylic paints to create the anti-gun violence mural at 1826 Logan Street in Over-the-Rhine. He finished up work on the mural on July 17.
“This mural is different in that it’s more about the message than the aesthetic,” Holbrook says.
The mural, a 12-foot-by-six-foot black and white hand making a peace sign, is meant to be a place where people can mourn those lost to gun violence.
“The victims and families don’t get the attention they deserve,” Holbrook says. “It’s a place families can go and know their loved ones were in mind when the mural was done.”
On July 7, Cincinnati mayor Aftab Pureval announced a slate of city efforts aimed at curbing violence.
“During these critical summer months when violence is historically higher, we are coming together to announce new and expanded strategies to disrupt violence through community and data-based initiatives,” Pureval said during a press briefing.
The initiative expands programs for the Cincinnati Police Department and a handful of nonprofits. Programs will set sights on new crime “hot spots,” including the McMicken Street corridor.
The largest expansion of funds for the initiative will dedicate $1.5 million in federal funds to PIVOT (Place-Based Investigations of Violent Offender Territories), a program that launched in 2016. The Cincinnati Police Department credits PIVOT for drastically improving violent crime in parts of East Westwood and Westwood.
In Ohio, Holbrook has completed murals in Columbus and Cleveland, cities also dealing with higher-than-usual gun crimes. His experience traveling has allowed him to connect with people dealing with gun violence in their own unique way.
“People think it’s regional when it happens, or even a neighborhood thing, but it’s really happening all over the country,” Holbrook says.
“People blame it on just guns and that’s getting away from the solution. A lot of the people perpetuating the violence are younger and younger. The victims are younger and younger, but often they are victims themselves. They’ve been through trauma. Family environment, economics, often times their family has a direct relationship with gun violence,” said Holbrook.
The next state on Holbrook’s tour is a secret, he says, but you can follow along on his Instagram.
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