Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Hostel Stairwell Murals by Connect Force

Safe Spaces & Positive Attitudes

Where is the worldliest, most socially engaging stairwell in Chicago? Right here in our very own Hostelling International Chicago, thanks to a group of kids that belong to Alternatives, Inc., a non-profit organization based in the north side of the city. Instead of spending spring break playing video games, watching TV, or doing something equally detached from the community, this group of youth came to the hostel to decorate the 7 floors in the hostel stairwell with powerful, colorful, Chicago and world-themed murals.

Alternatives, Inc., according to their website (, "builds on the strengths of young people by focusing on leadership development, prevention of violence and substance abuse, academic enrichment and counseling." The hostel muralists participate are part of an Alternatives project called Connect Force, which is a recreational after-school program that allows kids to explore their creativity through hip-hop, breakdancing, mural arts, deejaying, and emceeing.

Justin Grey, program manager of Connect Force and team leader for the hostel murals, helped co-found Connect Force in 2002. Back then, the project's only aim was to provide a safe a place for kids to breakdance. Justin had a background as a graffiti artist and later brought that component into it. Before he knew it, it was a functioning after-school program with a ton of participants.

HI-Chicago and Connect Force joined together thanks to the chance meeting of HI-staffer and a Connect Force participant who was on a cultural youth retreat the hostel. He mentioned that he belonged to an organization that created empowering murals throughout the city. The shared mission was realized, the connection was sparked and the rest was history.

The murals' themes revolve around Chicago, community, the world, and youth ideals. Graffiti urges "Be Yourself" and "Leave a Path, Don't Just Follow a Trail." One wall is devoted to the word "Welcome" in 20 different languages. A full-wall map of the world gives travelers a chance to contemplate global geography as they walk up and down the hostel stairwells. A colorful map of Chicago's neighborhoods shows them the endless compartments of the city. When it came to depicting Chicago's Uptown neighborhood, the group tried to keep it positive by showcasing their experiences in the neighborhood - art, hip-hop and skateboarding - but at the same time represent the truth, which is evident in the representations of homelessness and gentrification.

The next time you're at the hostel, don't miss out on a viewing of this dynamic artwork. If you are interested in encouraging a youth in your life to join, or just want to know more about the organization, check them out on the web at You can also check out more of Connect Force's murals at the Howard Area Community Center in Rogers Park.

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