The Davidsonian

Ada Jenkins Welcomes New Art, New Court

Sketches of the future Ada Jenkins mural. Graphic by Marquia Humphries ‘22

Belle McKissick Staley ’26 (She/Her), Staff Writer

The original Ada Jenkins Center building—the wooden school house of Davidson Colored School—was burned down in the 1930s. Instead of shutting down, principal Ada Jenkins herself rallied the community to rebuild. In a seldom told version of the story, it is said that when her plea for support was originally ignored, Ada Jenkins marched to Davidson College and began carrying the college’s loose bricks to her own school. While the “truth” in this variation is speculated, both versions depict the present reality: since the completion of the brick schoolhouse of Ada Jenkins—now called Ada Jenkins Families and Careers Development Center—in 1937, the building is a permanent haven for education.

“Going back to the history, our namesake Davidson Colored School, it has always been all about educating,” explained Leslie Wilson, Director of Education Services at Ada Jenkins Center. “I always try to make sure learning is fun. It is all about making it interesting and making it applicable to what really is going on today—in today’s life and [the kids’] lives. We want students to understand that learning can take you to different places. You can work for NASA or you can be an architect or you can be a basketball player.”

Those budding basketball players are in luck. This September, the Center announced that Steph Curry’s non-profit Eat. Learn. Play, in partnership with Summit Foundation and Under Armour, were funding a renovation of the Ada Jenkins gym. A portion of the history of the Ada Jenkins Center will not be lost through the act of renovation; rather, the purpose of the space will be revitalized.

“My mother actually attended the Ada Jenkins center,” explained Kateaka Brown, the Education Services Assistant Director at Ada Jenkins. “I hear a lot of stories about the gym and […] to see the gym transform is really amazing.”

She added, “I think back then, she just said ‘let’s educate these kids,’ but now if [Ada Jenkins] could see how far it’s gotten […] who wouldn’t be proud of that type of legacy that continues to have roots and continues to serve the community?”

The renovated gym will be a center for athletic opportunity, community growth, and even creativity. Not only will the gym floors be refurbished, but also the walls: the donation included resources for a painted mural. The mural in completion will depict the branching aspects of the Ada Jenkins community. However, the mural’s creation will also be a homage to the community of Ada Jenkins: two Davidson College community members are heading the design.

“I was told that there was going to be a mural happening at Ada Jenkins and I was interested in finding students to facilitate it,” said Katie St. Clair, Assistant Professor of Art at Davidson. “The goal is that all of these people can come together to work on a project that visualizes what it’s actually like in the community.”

Marquia Humphries ‘22, a co-designer of the mural, threw herself into the conception of the mural because, like so many others, she found acceptance, purpose, and a home at Ada Jenkins.

“I volunteered at Ada Jenkins for sophomore, junior and senior year working with arts enrichment,” Humpries said. “I would facilitate art lessons for the students usually related to the curriculum, and then sometimes it would be activities just to get the students to relax after the day because at that point, they’ve been in school since 7 a.m. and they just need a mental break […] Art enrichment at Ada Jenkins highlighted that there is literally no right or wrong way to do ‘art.’ It’s just getting the students to participate and start thinking.”

The completed mural will portray the interlacing, unique community which Ada Jenkins encompasses, reflecting its nature as a place of learning through growth, creation, and support.

“I think that anytime art is brought into a community where meeting basic needs is challenging, I actually think that’s when creativity does its job the best,” said St. Clair. “I think it’s all about believing in yourself […] From what I’ve seen, Ada Jenkins creates those support systems for people who wouldn’t have had them. And I think that’s a pretty special moment of ‘what’s possible.’”

The community surrounding the Ada Jenkins Center, like its brick schoolhouse setting, has been able to remain solid despite any situation. However, akin to the renovation of the building, the community constantly grows to effectively meet the needs of the present reality.

“A couple of decades in and we’re going strong, and it hasn’t always looked the

same,” said Josh Kiser, the Facilities and Volunteers Manager. “We’ve had to grow as an organization to meet needs, even just since COVID. However, the longevity of this organization is mirrored in Miss Jenkins’ legacy and just the school’s legacy and what it means to the community. Ada Jenkins lends to a living, breathing example of growth.”

Growth is forefronted through the Ada Jenkins legacy, the renovation of its gym, the learning program and interwoven into the conception of the mural. The mural will be painted on three removable canvases instead of directly on the wall. By painting the Ada Jenkins mural on ‘revitalizable’ canvases, the mural is better able to convey the only permanent service at Ada Jenkins: teaching in the present in order to facilitate future learning.

“It’s all about providing hope for a future,” said Kiser. “ Meeting a need today while providing hope for tomorrow. So for me, this mural represents hope. The kids, being able to see Steph Curry [and the art] on that wall will give motivation and aspirations to something bigger than what the kids ever even thought to dream of happening.”

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