This Fort Wayne nonprofit is using its broken windows to support the Black Lives Matter movement

Since it was founded in downtown Fort Wayne about two years ago, the nonprofit Alyssum Montessori School has prided itself as being an educational center for curious minds ages 3-12, with a special focus on social justice and equity.

As a "Wildflower School," about one-third of its 20-some students are people of color, and 90 percent are from low-income families.

So when two of the school’s windows were broken during the first protest for George Floyd in Fort Wayne, Suzy Ulmer, the school’s Co-Founder and Teacher Leader, took the opportunity to respond thoughtfully. A mural by Adam Garland at Alyssum Montessori School.

Instead of focusing on the destruction, her team began working with a group of artists to transform their boarded-up windows into an opportunity for nonviolent, creative expression in the city.

“For these artists, it is a way to express themselves and be nonviolent in their protest that I think could possibly inspire other people to do the same,” Ulmer says. “It's about sharing your voice through art.”

The idea to turn the boarded-up windows into murals came to Ulmer from two directions: Fort Wayne artist Adam Garland, as well as her daughter, Sophia Ulmer, 32, who is visiting from out of town.

Coordinating their efforts, Garland, Sophia, and muralist Jafet Garcia worked quickly over the weekend to apply paint to the boards, conjuring up designs with a raised fist, as well as signs that read “No justice, no peace,” “Black Lives Matter,” and “Say their names.”

Ulmer says the response from the community has been overwhelmingly positive so far, and the murals have even helped Alyssum raise funds for their programs during the particularly challenging COVID-19 pandemic.

“We have families who, because of COVID, can’t pay their tuition because they’re not working right now,” Ulmer says.

On GivingTuesday, she launched a GoFundMe campaign for the school’s scholarship fund. On the average year, her team relies on donations between $10,000-15,000 to support their families, so having a way to raise these funds virtually has helped. This year, Alyssum is adding a second location to increase its enrollment, as well, so the needs are even greater. 

Since the murals have gone up, Ulmer says residents have responded and donated an additional $1,000 via her GoFundMe page and the school’s website.

She says once her new windows are back in place, her team plans to auction off the murals to raise additional funds, and a portion of proceeds will go to the Black Lives Matter movement, too.

“These broken windows were a blessing in disguise that have allowed us to share a positive message,” she says.

For Ulmer’s daughter, Sophia, the message of the murals is also a message of support for nonviolent protests—as opposed to so-called “peaceful protests.”

“There is no such thing as a peaceful protest,” Sophia says. “We should keep things nonviolent; that is ideal. But when the situation is not ideal, and we have to contend with systematic oppression and racism, there’s no way to disrupt that system in a peaceful way. A protest is meant to disrupt. So it’s important that the language shifts, and we stop calling it a ‘peaceful protest.’ When we’re blocking traffic or chanting loudly, we are not peaceful, but we are nonviolent.”

Alyssum plans to auction off its murals, and donate a portion of the proceeds to the Black Lives Matter movement.

Read more articles by Kara Hackett.

Kara Hackett is a Fort Wayne native fascinated by what's next for northeast Indiana how it relates to other up-and-coming places around the world. After working briefly in New York City and Indianapolis, she moved back to her hometown where she has discovered interesting people, projects, and innovations shaping the future of this place—and has been writing about them ever since. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @karahackett.
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