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February 10,2002

A public art project under way will consist of 10,000 tiles
handpainted by Rhode Islanders to commemorate September 11.


The first symbols of remembrance were bouquets and the homemade signs, and such measures as a sand sculpture tossed into the Potomac for a Buddhist healing ritual. Now, people are remembering tragedy with statues, engravings - with permanence.

So it is that nearly five months after the terrorist attacks, the post office in Cranbury, N.J., for instance, has been remamed for Todd Beamer, a passenger who fought the hijackers on Flight 93. Across the Brooklyn Bridge, a new grove of Scarlet trees will honor the victims.

In Rhode Island, there will be the Wall of Hope.

The wall, public art that will be unveiled on Sept.11 of this year, will be crated from an estimated 10,000 tiles.

Inmates at the Rhode Island Training School are painting the tiles, as are some students from Providence Country Day School. Worshippers from the Musilm American Dawah Center of Rhode Island have painted tiles, as have workers at Textron, and students at Johson & Wales University. People have painted sunsets and inspirational quotes; someone painted the World Trade Center in heaven.

The Wall of Hope: A Rhode Island Community Project is being organized by the Providence chapter of the National Conference for Community and Justice, which plans to announce the location of the Wall of Hope next month. It costs $10 to paint a tile, but no one is being turned away for lack of money. The organization's instructions to people who want to paint tiles are equally simple.

"It's your personal vision, your personal vision," Rob Brown, a program director for the organiation, told a group of teenagers, who gathered at the NCCJ office on Thurbers Avenue on a recent evening, to paint tiles.

The teenagers were past staff members and attendants of Camp Anytown, a NCCJ summer camp that aims to teach young people about tolerance and diversity. Seated at a long table, Shaplaie Thomas, softspoken, with burgundy highlights in her hair, used a paintbrush to wiite, on her tile, a verse from Psalms 121. "I will lift up mine eyes to the hills from whence cometh my help."

Thomas has been brought up in the Pentecostal church. On Sept. 11, when students at Feinstein High School learned of the attacks, Thomas and her friends stood in a circle and prayed.

"My mom tells me that when I need help, or I am discouraged or down, to go to God in prayer and ask him what to do about it," she said. "My vision of hope is God."

Across the table, Marie Chinappi painted an adaptation of writings by her favorite author, the French existentialist Albert Camus. She wrote: "In the depths of winter, I found there lay within me an invincible summer."

Chinappi, 16, of Upton, Mass., said the quote partly signifies the fact that since Sept. 11, she has become less bitter about such things as the leadership of the country.

"It's a weird thing," she said, "But I feel less critical of the president and the government."

Leidy Valencia, 15, decorated a tile with purple paint; she planned to write "when there's a will there's a way."

"It's just the fact of will," she said. "People need to not forgive, but to move on, I not be afraid."

Valencia, a Pawtucket resident who attends the Wheeler School, said people need hope that there's "going to be a better day." Young people have the most hope, she said, because they have the most energy and are most able to forgive.

"People don't realize how much we understand," she said.

Dionne Colafrancesco, 16, sat near her paintbrush, and her purple cell phone. The student at Providence Country Day brushed on yellow paint, and explained that to her, hope is "love."

"Hope is something that will always be there, if people just believe in it, like love," she said.

Such responses are the kind of heartfelt reaction for which Jennifer Robinson, the coordinator and originator of the Wall of Hope project, had hoped.

Robinson, helped create a wall of tiles, honoring Martin Luther King Jr.'s philosoghy, in Los Angeles. She moved to Rhode Island about three years ago, with her husband, a Brown University graduate who wanted to return to the state to live. Robinson volunteered with the Rhode Island office of the National Conference for Community and Justice before joining the organization full-time on Sept. 1.

"On Sept. 10, I was sure I knew exactly what this year would be like; on Sept. 11, I realized nothing would be fthe same again," Robinson said.

People began calling the organization shorly after the terrorist attacks, saying that they had given blood and donated time and money. What else could they do?

Robinson thought the Wall of Hope would be an opportunity to pull Rhode Islanders together. The $10 for the tile will pay for the Wall of Hope, and will also finance programs created in response to Sept. 11. The programs, run by the NCCJ, focus on building relationships beween people of different cultures and backgrounds.

Corporations, such as Home Depot in Warwick, donated the tiles.

Hundreds of tiles have been painted so far. The word "hope" has been painted in Chinese, Hebrew. Spanish and Arabic, Robinson said.

"This project is ultimately about helping people heal," she said. "When you pull back, you realize that no matter how differently we all express it, in the end, we're all hoping for a safer, more respectful, more loving world in which to live."

Howard Decker, the curator for the National Building Museum in Washinton, D.C., said that historically, memorials have been one of the tools by which Americans have made sense out of their "national experience." Now, he said, there is "an enormous amount of conversation going on about this matter."

There are plans for memorials in at least 150 communities throughtout the nation, USA today has reported.

"We feel compelled to try to find a way to make sense out of what's happened," Decker said. "Our experiences and emotions are so deep and powerful - we're trying to find a way to understand and to speak to one another about what's happened."

The National Conference for Community and Justice asked Rick Roth, the owner of Mirror Image, in Pawtucket, to paint the very first tile. Shortly after Sept. 11, an Arab market owner in Pawtucket had his windows broken. Roth was angered, and raised money among local residents to fix the windows.

For his tile, Roth, 48, painted an amnesty candle, and wrote on the tile the initials of every activist who has ever inspired him. Art and peace go together well, he said.

"It's good for people to think of visions of a better world. I'm kind of old-fashioned that a Boy Scout thing," he said. "You're supposed to leave the campsite better than you found it. It works that way in the world, too."

During Ramadan, Naima and Farid Ansari, of Providence, invited about 25 of their friends to paint tiles. Naima Ansari said that after Sept. 11, people were constantly asking her husband, the imam at the Muslim American Dawah Center of Rhode Island, to speak about Islam at churches, universities and businesses. Yet there remained, amoung the family and their friends, a feeling of helplessness, she said.

Most of the people who came to their house to paint tiles portrayed, on their tiles, peace as well as hope, she said. One woman, an architect, painted a Greek revival building because to her, it signified symmetry.

On her tile, Naima Ansari wrote in Arabic "That God is one, and for us all to come together under the one God."

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