Image of the mural featuring portraits of Madame CJ Walker, Yolanda Arroyo Pizzarro, and Mu Sochua

Students, staff, and families recently gathered after hours at Sullivan School in a hallway near the main office, waiting with excitement for the event about to unfold.

“Weaving Stories of Valor: The Empowerment of Women of Color” celebrated the unveiling of a new mural at Sullivan School, featuring bright and colorful portraits of inspiring women of color. The event, organized by Spanish language arts teacher Suhail Cantero, celebrated the legacy of the women featured in the mural. One of those women, Afro-Puerto Rican novelist and professor Yolanda Arroyo Pizzaro, was the event’s keynote speaker. She spoke about empowerment and diversity, which resonated with the audience, especially the student organizers.

Students selected Ms. Arroyo Pizzaro, American entrepreneur and activist Madame CJ Walker, and Cambodian rights activist Mu Sochua to be a part of the mural in recognition of their history of empowering their communities to persevere and succeed.

After the mural was formally unveiled, dance team members from Sullivan danced bachata—a music genre with strong roots in the Caribbean—against a painted backdrop over the school’s stage. In an expression of shared joy, Ms. Arroyo Pizzaro also joined in for a dance before the night was over.

“The mural is far more than just an artwork; it is a vibrant emblem of empowerment and a celebration of our community's collaborative and resilient spirit,” said Ms. Cantero. “The unveiling ceremony was a deeply emotional affair, greatly enhanced by the beloved presence of Yolanda Arroyo Pizarro, who not only autographed the mural but also shared words that deeply resonated with everyone, inspiring and uniting our community with every word.” 

The mural was designed in collaboration between staff and students, with Sullivan teacher Justin Griffin leading the artistic conception and painting execution. Students Davia Collins, Yeilianis Rodriguez Calderon, and Ava Sing researched and planned the mural’s content, selecting the three women who were featured and determining how to portray them with cultural and historical accuracy. Seventh grade student Jean Vasquez-Santiago painted with Mr. Griffin’s direction, ensuring the details matched the vision of the design. Other students who contributed to the project include Sullivan students Amahya Colon Arce, Anisha Guerra, Adrian Restrepo, Ishanellys Rivera, and Keyliarys Vidal Moldonado, as well as  Alondra Colon Arce, a 9th grade student at HHS Dean Campus.

The mural and event were completed with support from UMASS, Mount Holyoke College, and Nuestras Raíces. The completed piece spans 12 feet of wall near the school’s entrance, a welcoming—and empowering—sight for the staff and students who will pass by it daily.