'Our city was creating a revolution': Minneapolis students capture tumultuous senior year with mural

Two students work on a mural.
South high school students Azalea Anderson, left, and Olivia Sather, right, work on different parts of a mural commemorating the year following George Floyd's murder inside of the Casket Arts Building in Minneapolis on Wednesday.
Evan Frost | MPR News

You may recall that in December, we shared stories about George Floyd Square by students at South High School in Minneapolis. Many live in the neighborhood where Floyd was killed, and their school is just a block south of the many razed and burned out buildings on Lake Street.

We met up with them this week as they close out what has been, to say the least, a difficult senior year spent mostly online. They’re working together on a mural — finally in person.

“It was the first time I met these students face to face all year,” said teacher Delainia Haug. She co-teaches the class with Laura Lanik. “We’ve been working online together since September, but to be together in the space and to know every single one of these seniors is vaccinated — it felt like we could let our guard down a little bit and actually have real school together.”

But they aren’t on campus. They’re in Peyton Scott Russell’s studio in northeast Minneapolis. Russell is the artist who painted the iconic black and white portrait of George Floyd displayed at 38th Street and Chicago Avenue.

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For their mural, the students are using some of the very techniques Russell did to bring his mural to life, but with their likenesses instead. When it’s done, it will tell the story of their senior year — showing protests, Lake Street rubble, and despite it all, students in their caps and gowns. It will then be installed at the school, like a visual time capsule for future classes to see.

“It’s a very historical moment and we want to capture that in our lens right now, while we’re living through it,” said student Ashlyn Ziegler. “I think that years to come, the students will realize that we had to prosper through a really challenging year while our city was creating a revolution. And I think that’s very powerful.”

Ziegler said this year has taught her to not take things for granted and to not worry too much about the little things. She said she’ll take a gap year before earning a child development associate credential to teach young children.

Hamda Abdi said she plans to go to college next year and focus on classes related to social justice.

“[This year] has awakened our brain that our voices matter and there are people out there who want to hear our voices,” Abdi said. “Tough things are going to happen, but my voice matters and I’m going to speak up no matter what. That’s what I have learned this year and will take into adulthood.”

The students plan to unveil their mural virtually next week. They’ll graduate June 10.