Flint, MI—When St. Clair native Pastor Christian Jones, 29, was called to Flint in 2019 to work with the Franklin Avenue Mission on the east side, he was astonished by the amount of public and street art bringing barren walls to life around the city.
“I got here and I was just amazed walking around and seeing the incredible things. The one that’s over here on the east side on Lewis Street the ‘I am my ancestors wildest dreams’ that was the first real piece I saw and was just blown away by it.” Jones said.
The first F.A.M. Jam event took up most of the block around the church Sept. 3 and 4. On one corner artists from Flint and throughout the state spray painted the walls of the church and surrounding structures. In the parking lot there was a stage for community conversations and live music featuring Grammy-nominated artist FLAME, as well as chalk art and bicycle giveaways. The yard out back was sprinkled with children’s games and face painters, and the basketball court had a break dancing workshop put on by Flint’s Vertical Ambition Crew.
Around a month after the COVID-19 pandemic shutdowns started, Jones noticed a group of young people tagging several buildings in the neighborhood—including the church and the garage—with their signature pink and teal colors. Instead of vilifying them for painting illegally, he said he knew that graffiti was their entertainment and wanted to find a way to engage them, so he turned the Franklin Avenue Mission campus into a canvas.
“Being able to spend time with their art, not just trying to tag and run, but to engage them and say ‘dude go for it!'” he said.
Jones says that many things drove him to put on the event, but one of the most important to him is giving east siders a sense of community.
“The past year, not only is there not a lot to do on the east side, but everyone was told to stay home, stay inside. So you saw this implosion of community here. Before the pandemic we’d regularly have 250 people in the building every Tuesday and Thursday for dinner, and then they couldn’t. Everything was just shut down. And so being able to restart community, restart relationships, have neighborly discussions, being able to see them face to face, that’s huge. They haven’t been able to have that for over a year.”
Jones said he hopes to continue to host community events in the future. He said beginning in October the Franklin Avenue Mission will partner with Our Savior Lutheran Church to bring similar ministries and opportunities to Flint’s north side.