It’s not the first time students don’t believe him. “They just can’t believe I painted that mural,” coach Salvador Ramos explains. Occasionally, students stand in the middle of the hallway, that leads to the gym at Navarro Middle School and stare at the prominent figures that stand out on each side of the walls, pointing out the names of people they recognize: Frida Kahlo, Oscar de la Hoya, Martin Luther King, “and who’s that?” they ask coach Ramos, who started this project three years ago, “Well, –he replies– that’s Cesar Chavez and there we have Carlos Santana.” Then, ‘ohs and ahs’ fill the gym corridor followed by “Wow! We can’t believe you painted that, we thought it was the art teacher’s work.”
Coach Ramos you have been teaching for 20 years in the physical education field, how come you ended up painting this mural and why paint one?
I was informally talking with an administrator about what we could do to encourage cultural awareness to our kids because the campus has become culturally diverse. Then, he came up with the idea: “Why don’t you do a mural.” I didn’t really think it was serious, and he added, “You talk a lot, but talk is cheap”. Three days later, I got confirmation that all was set with the principal, Kelly Vaughn, and that the materials would be arriving soon. The assistant principal knew I drew, I guess it was a matter of connecting the dots and for me to accept the challenge.
So, how to start, did you know what you were getting yourself into?
I used to do some art here and there, I went to Fleming Middle School which has always encouraged the fine arts and was actually supposed to go to the High School of Performing and Visual Arts… but I was a difficult student –he chuckles–, I didn’t make it for the conduct part. I had the ability, but that kept me from going. So I really wasn’t that lost as to where to start.
For the mural, I tried to envision that as the students walked through the hallway, they would see a visual history going back as far as we could to have them realize the rich history we have; full of prominent figures that started with nothing and worked hard because they had a strong belief or passion. I wanted them to feel proud and think that just like them, they can achieve huge things too.
This is a long corridor painted on both sides, who helped you get it finished?
Once I started sketching out the drawings, many contributed with ideas and hands. Some teachers would say, “Coach, consider this person or this moment in history.” I also had students that were very eager to help. The curious thing is that most of them where actually the ones that were giving the teachers lots of problems, but they became interested in the mural, so I got permission from their teachers with the condition of having them finish their work first. They would come out and do all the outlining of the words or paint the background. Some would set up the mats on the floors and bring the paint. I received a lot of support from the principal Kelly Vaughn, the art teacher Ms. Catherine Edwards –who let me borrow brushes that she still hasn’t gotten back, and who would advise me about paint combinations.
Do you have plans to expand the mural?
Yes, it is a work in progress, we are definitely not done yet. Along these three years I’ve had the opportunity to ask students what they recognize, and they reference the Aztec and Egyptian section, but some of the Mexican revolutionary pictures are not familiar to them since some of our kids are from other countries in Central and South America. The next phase is finding other figures they can relate to. Students have even mentioned who they would like to see up here, so they’re teaching me also about our great diversity.
Now, our principal wants to dedicate the wall and we are planning on inviting the students that helped, who are in high school now, to have their hand painted on the wall, just to show their ‘hands on’ contribution.
Coach Ramos, why didn’t you pursue a career in the art field since you seem to be so good at it, and rather chose kinesiology?
Well, actually I was pursuing a business major at the University of Houston. But at that moment, my little brother had many problems in school, and the only time he was going straight was when he was playing football. I started to see how much influence his coaches had on him. That was my turning point. I wanted to encourage some of our kids in our community in the same way those coaches were doing with him. I decided that I could be a better role model by serving the community rather than by serving myself in the business world. As a junior in my career, it was simple just to transfer my credits into kinesiology, the tough part was explaining to my wife –he laughs–, although she was very supportive. Since then, I’ve taught for 20 years, 19 at Navarro Middle School. The best decision made. It’s great giving back to the community in which I’ve been for a while, I’m very much enriched by it and I hope the students are too.
Pictures and text by: Catalina Caicedo Garzón