It all happened while sitting at a red light at the corner of No Man's Drive and Desolation Way.  I was on my way to serve meals for a volunteer project, which was taking me through a side of town I don't normally travel. This area is not a nice area; everything is grey, tattered, desolate and broken. Those same words - I'm assuming - could be used to describe much of the folks who live here. The neighborhood is a washed up mill village, no longer on the city's map of economic engines. It's an eye-sore to those passing through. It's why -- in the 60-seconds I was stopped at a red light here -- the Color of LIGHT jumped out at me and instantly grabbed my attention. 

Across the street, on the side of a gas station, I saw the most beautiful work of art. At first, and probably because of my surroundings, I assumed it was graffiti. But that was the split-second judgement I initially made. Quickly, my eyes adjusted and I realized this was not graffiti - not at all, in fact -- but rather the work of something so much more.  Along the side of the gas station stretched a mural of row houses, with beautiful white flowers dangling out of the sky above. I wondered What was this? Who was behind this work? and Why? The clock was ticking away on my time at the red light when I looked up to the gas station's roof. There stood a man .... painting. Oh my gosh, there he is. That's the artist! He's working as I sit here at this red light and imagine his story! Another split-second passed and the light turned green. My foot instinctively pressed on the gas and my car carried me away. But my mind remained on that corner for the rest of the day. I could not let this go; I wanted to know this story for I knew immediately I was staring LIGHT in the face. Days later, I returned to the gas station.

Adam Schrimmer moved to the area following a stint in Miami as the Art Director for the Miami New Times. Though the work was satisfying, life in the fast lane was not. An internet search for one of "the best places to raise a family" brought Schrimmer and his family to Greenville, SC. Now working as an independent graphic artist, Shrimmer moves about in a few of the art circles in town. It's how his name was mentioned as part of a  particular revitalization project in the Poe Mill Village. He was originally approached by organizers of the Poe Mill Neighborhood Association, who asked Schrimmer to give them a proposal to paint a mural on two of the buildings there  to which he obliged.  But there wasn't really any money to pay Schrimmer. The project was simply a dream for some who live in this area. 
Nearly a year and a half passed before talks moved to action, due much in part to Schrimmer's willingness to get involved and help secure some grant money to fund the project. I later learned that the grant money really just covers the cost of paint and supplies; Schrimmer's time and talent has been more or less donated.... and he's been at this for 6 months! But I'm getting ahead of myself....

People who live in this area know who their people are. Outsiders are immediately recognized as such. So on the day Schrimmer pulled up in his black pick-up truck and started pulling out his painting supplies, a crowd of brooding men approached: Druggies, Drunks, Pimps and other labels Schrimmer didn't want to think about. They reeked of alcohol and other fumes Schrimmer was yet to identify.  They boldly ask him if he was going to paint this wall? Is he going to be here every day? What sort of painting is he going to do?  Schrimmer replied with simple one-word answers and continued to unload his truck, set up shop, preparing to paint.  The Crowd stood their ground and stared at Schrimmer the rest of the day, watching him, waiting for him to make a wrong move. To say his first day onsite was intimidating would be an understatement but he forged ahead.

The community had been made aware of the project in advance. The Neighborhood Association held a big party, inviting everyone out to help  launch the project by priming the wall.  About 100 people showed up - families and children -- and together they prepped and painted. The intention was both to do something positive for the Youth, and to garner community participation to help foster a "buy-in" on the idea. It was a huge success. But the reality is, during the week, on a daily basis, those people are not the ones hanging out on this corner.
This was The Crowd's domain.

Each day continued to present itself with new challenges. There was trash to be picked up -- leftovers from the endless drunks and druggies who camp here overnight -- before Schrimmer could begin to work. There was more harassment from The Crowd
, giving him a hard time about each stroke he took as if suddenly they'd become Art Critics in their delirium. There were fights on the corner that sometimes Schrimmer could not ignore. Like the time he witnessed a man viciously beating a woman. "I wasn't here to get involved. It's not any of my business. But when I see a guy beating up a woman. I just can't sit back and not do anything. So I called 911 that day."   It was not the last time Schrimmer called 911....

One morning, as he pulled his pickup truck into the parking lot, he saw a man lying face down on the ground in front of where he was to paint. This was not an unusual sight by any means so Schrimmer didn't think much of it until he got out of his truck. The Crowd was there, and one of the men nodded to Schrimmer and asked, "You got a phone?" Schrimmer replied, "Yeah, I got a phone. What's wrong with him? Has anyone been over there to check on him?" referring to the lifeless body.  Schrimmer went to the man and noted he was still breathing, but barely. Schrimmer dialed 911 and soon the Police and EMS swarmed in; it instantly became a very big scene. The cops interrogated Schrimmer in a quasi-threatening manner. They asked what did he know about the man; what happened to him? Aggravated, he told the detective, "I have no idea! Why don't you go ask those guys over there. They were all standing around just staring at the guy when I arrived. I'm the one who actually called for help".  An hour and a half passed and Schrimmer still hadn't painted a drop. The lifeless man was hauled away in the ambulance and The Crowd disappeared. Schrimmer was left sitting there staring at the wall, agitated, trying to decide whether or not he was even going to paint at all that day when an old lady walked up to him, catching him by surprise. She said, "I've lived here 50 years in this house. I see your pretty flowers on this wall. I want you to add some flowers to the side of the building so I can see them from my porch". Schrimmer apologetically explained, "No. I'm not going to be painting on the side of the building. That isn't part of the project. I don't have permission to do that." The old lady hung her head in disappointment. She complimented him on his work and walked away.  Schrimmer thought about her simple request and thought twice about his answer. It was just a few flowers on the side of the building so she could see them from her front porch. There is so little to look at in this neighborhood, what on earth would honoring her request hurt? Would someone honestly complain and say that wasn't part of the deal? Suddenly inspired to paint, Schrimmer reached for his paintbrush and wrapped a vine of flowers around the building.

That afternoon, he went home emotionally spent. He had experienced such a wide range of feelings throughout the day starting with worry over the lifeless man, moving into aggravation after the police seemed less than thankful for his call, to feeling proud of going with his gut and doing what he felt was right by painting the flowers on the edge of the building.  Days later, the old lady's daughter came down to the mural, grabbed Schrimmer without saying a word and pulled him into a bear hug. Her eyes watering she said, "My Mama comes outside and cries everyday when she sees those flowers. You are blessed, You have a gift. We've never seen anybody like you before." Grateful yet embarrassed, Shrimmer didn't know what to say. "What do you say to that? There's no way of knowing how what you're doing is going to affect people."

So six months and two sweeping murals later,  Schrimmer has gained some perspective on Poe Mill and the people who haunt these streets. He's become friendly with the neighbors and in the good graces of community leaders. But perhaps more importantly he's come to know The Crowd and their individual personalities. They are the sum of their past, and while part of that include things they don't want anyone to know about, they've showed their humanity to Schrimmer all along the way - he feels it now - they've come to know him too, and appreciate what he's done. They greet him each day with handshakes and nods of appreciation and approval.

It's more than just about a painting.  It's reminded them to have pride in their community, in their history, in their past; and to get what you want takes hard work. Back during the beginning of the project, Schrimmer painted over some graffiti on the wall that read "RIP 40".  A member of The Crowd quickly stated, "You're going to put that back, right?" Schrimmer sensed this was more of a demand rather than a question, and he obliged by later working it into his design. He painted it several times, but each time it did not meet The Crowd's approval. Frustated, Schrimmer painted over it and left it blank until he was nearing the end of the project. RIP 40 weighed on him. He knew somehow he had to repaint it in a way that was congruent with the mural and honor "40" - whomever he was - and please The Crowd. He knew if he could get it right, it would somehow serve as a secret handshake between him and the men who'd hovered over his shoulders for months. Finally,  after his final pass, his toughest critic from The Crowd approached and nodded in approval. "You got it right! That's it."

The goal of the project was to represent the sentiment:  “Cherish Yesterday, Dream Tomorrow, and Create Today”.  The community organizers wanted something that would remind people to remember their past, dream new dreams, and start creating it now. To this, Schrimmer says he's so glad he said Yes, even though it has not been an easy road.  Thinking back to that first day when he pulled up in his truck and faced the firing squad, he admits he was scared and not quiet sure what he'd gotten himself into.  And many days since, he's had to dig deep to find the inspiration to keep going. He's often found it in the lyrics of some of his favorite music, which he plays repeatedly on his iPod while he works.  A particular stanza in the song "We Made it" by rappers Busta Rhymes & Linkin Park  states

                                "Look in case you misunderstand exactly what I'm building
                                Things that I could leave for my children (children) children (children)"

This gets Schrimmer motivated, reminding him of the bigger picture.  "This is what I love to do! To create a visual based off words -- that's storytelling! It's about selflessness. At the end of the day, I want as many people as humanly possible to enjoy it."  Another favorite song is by a reggae artist, Mavado, called "Hope and Pray" in which the message is about having a light shine and show you the way, to leave grudgeful, dark things behind you and walk a straight path and never stray (paraphrased).

I knew it the second I saw Schrimmer's work. There was LIGHT here. It's not about the artist but about the LIGHT that is being shined through his handiwork -- showing them the way. Honor the past but leave it behind and walk straight into the future of your dreams... and start creating it now.

When I asked Schrimmer to reflect on what this project has meant to him, he says, "When I started this project, I didn't know what to expect. It turned out to be a life-changing experience that I am so grateful for. I want to personally thank Kwadjo Campbell and Rashida Jeffers-Campbell [of the Poe Mill Neighborhood Association] for this opportunity; and a special thanks to "The Crowd" for being out there with me in the elements everyday, offering words of encouragement and critique of my work until we got it just right. To all of you in the vibrant Poe Mill community, you have elevated not just my work as an artist, but my spirit as well. I am better human being because of all of you."

"Cherish Yesterday, Dream Tomorrow, Create Today" -- It's a message for anyone, really, no matter on which street corner you hover.

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See much more from the Poe Mill Village murals in the Photo Gallery below (Courtesy Josh Tremper)



    Hi, I'm April and I'm glad you're here. 


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