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Mural honors slain teen

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Community rallies around message of love and support.

OUTLOOK PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - The city of Gresham's Youth Advisory Committee spearheaded a mural project at the Rockwood 7-Eleven store where local teenager Larnell Bruce was murdered in August by alleged white supremacists.Three months ago Gresham was saddened by news of a teenager’s death, supposedly because of the color of his skin. Larnell Bruce, a 19-year-old African American man from Vancouver, Wash., was hit and killed by a car outside of the 7-Eleven on Northeast 188th Avenue and Burnside Street on Aug. 10.

OUTLOOK PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - Youth Advisory Committee members, including Gerardo Miguel de la Cruz, top, and Rebekah Burns, bottom, help paint a mural dedicated to slain teenager Larnell Bruce Friday at the Rockwood 7-Eleven where Bruce was murdered. Neighbors were drawn to the site to leave messages of love and support for Bruce on the wall of the convenience store. This left the business in a tough spot, as they had to keep painting over the messages or face fines.

“People from the community were writing RIP messages on the side of the building, and 7-Eleven was struggling to remove what was technically graffiti,” said Joe Walsh, Gresham’s senior manager of neighborhood prosperity and youth engagement. “It occurred to us we could do something more permanent that would have the same message.”

Thus the idea for a mural was born, created by the entire community to celebrate Bruce’s life with a tribute to diversity, unity and inclusion. It was painted Friday afternoon, Nov. 4, by local artists and the Gresham Youth Advisory Committee — which provides recommendations to Gresham City Council, and was one of the driving forces behind the project.

“During a challenging time for our community, these bright and caring high school students remind us of the resiliency of the human spirit,” said Gresham Mayor Shane Bemis, “and that it is better to choose love over hate, and hope over despair.”

The mural was created in an effort to help the community heal and move on from the murder. In addition to the work done by the Youth Advisory Committee, the owners of the 7-Eleven and the Rosewood Initiative were active partners in the project.

“It would have been easy to slap a sign up on the wall, but this is so much better,” said Melissa Dickinson, asset protection specialist with 7-Eleven. “It is nice to have the whole community involved.”

OUTLOOK PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - Artist Brook Stein, a local artist and community organizer, helps paint a mural dedicated to murdered teen Larnell Bruce. Creating the vision

From the beginning of the process different people were able to have input on how the mural should look.

Artists had been working since early October on the design, and the intent was to be respectful of the original messages while following the vision laid out by the community and people who had known Bruce.

Three artists came up with the final design and helped guide the proceedings during the painting — Rudy Rolon-Rivas, community healing initiative mentor with Latino Network; Brook Stein, local artist and community organizer; and Marcos Restrepo, Mt. Hood Community College student and Gresham High School alumnus.

“We went through several rounds of brainstorming for how the design could look,” Restrepo said. “By the end us artists were left with key phrases and meanings they wanted us to portray.”

The most prominent image was of a large tree in the center of the mural, with a trunk of humans and hearts. This represented the community coming together and growing as one. The rest of the mural showed the surrounding neighborhood, city of Gresham and Mount Hood.

Everything was bright and vibrant, using paints with names like Crown Jewels, Grape Illusion and Green Gone Wild. It created a rainbow of colors that allowed the mural to stand out for those who pass by. For the mountain, one of the artists walked a few feet down the sidewalk to look at Mount Hood — allowing nature to inspire the direction of the art.

“We have been working on this for a long time,” Rolon-Rivas said. “Everyone contributed different ideas for what we could add to the mural.”

OUTLOOK PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - Marcos Restrepo, right, an Mt. Hood Community College student and Gresham High School graduate, is an artist who was enlisted to help guide Youth Advisory Committee members through the mural project.Changing the narrative

Russell Orlando Courtier, 38, and Colleen Hunt, 35, were both charged with the murder of Bruce. Police say Courtier and Bruce were involved in a physical altercation outside the 7-Eleven. According to the probable cause affidavit for arrest, when Bruce tried to run away, Courtier told a detective he intentionally chased and hit him with his red 1991 Jeep Wrangler. Hunt was the passenger.

In court documents, Hunt said she encouraged Courtier to fight with Bruce by yelling, “Get him baby, get him.” The documents also show that Courtier told detectives he “made a conscious decision to drive his vehicle towards and chase the black male.”

Courtier has alleged ties to white supremacist groups, after photos were discovered on his Facebook page. One shows he has a tattoo on his leg with the letters E and K. Those are commonly associated with showing an affiliation to the European Kindred, a gang formed in Oregon prisons in the 1990s. He also commented “us kindred” on another Facebook photo.

The minds behind the mural didn’t want the site of Bruce’s death to be remembered for the tragedy, but rather as a place where the community came together. While it was being painted, drivers would honk their horns in support and people walking by would come up and ask what it stood for.

One of Bruce’s family members had come to the future site of the mural while the artists were sketching out guidelines, and became emotional when she saw what the final design was going to look like. While Bruce’s family was disappointed to see the graffiti messages covered up, they were glad something permanent was being added.

“The media has been focused on portraying everything as white versus black, which separates us,” Restrepo said. “We want this mural to show the unity and growth in this community.”