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‘Freedom’ message by student artist coming to 50 restaurants

Grand Rapids — “I’m literally drawing in my sketch book right now. Can I show you?” Ottawa Hills High School sophomore Kahari King asked over a video call. The artist turned his book to face the camera and displayed a drawing of a detailed bird on a flower.

Depending on the drawing, Kahari doesn’t always think they’re ready to show others.

“We all have sketchbooks full of drawings we don’t show other people,” Kahari’s art teacher Tiffany Oliver said. “In class, we focus on building confidence in students in different art mediums to show off their work.” 

Oliver helped inspire Kahari’s confidence on a class project and now people across Michigan will get the chance to see Kahari’s art in more than 50 McDonald’s restaurants. The work is being installed in the coming weeks in locations from Grand Rapids and Wyoming to Flint, Saginaw and Detroit. 

Kahari’s artwork entitled “Freedom” exists as part of a larger project called “A Celebration of Culture & Community,” involving high school students from Grand Rapids, Detroit, Flint and Saginaw creating murals that best reflect their city’s culture.

“My class got this initiative as a project and we threw ourselves into learning about creating and demonstrating community and visuals that represent Grand Rapids,” Oliver said. 

Kahari and his class also learned from Michigan artist Desiree Kelly, whose murals can be seen at Eastern Market and the Permanent Collection of the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit. 

Kelly joined each participating school’s art class via Zoom to offer lessons about mural art.

“Murals are an important way to tell a community’s story,” Kelly said. “We can only hope that this conversation through art in our neighborhoods will continue to inspire more young artists to come forward.”

Kahari King’s ‘Freedom’ artwork will be displayed in McDonald’s restaurants across Michigan

Art with a Message

Kahari said he wanted to incorporate people of color in his piece and mainly used digital art software to create it. 

“(Freedom) is important because most of the people don’t like people of my color so I had to say I am an African American and I have my freedom. I want people of color to know they have freedom too,” he said. 

As a developing artist, Kahari is learning to communicate his thoughts and ideas through art. Oliver explained Kahari was uncertain about wanting to submit his work and felt “nervous and excited” for people to see his work in public. 

“Most of my art is to (convey) a message,” he said. “When I’m drawing it’s for me but most (have) messages that people either get or they don’t.”

Originally into music, but when he gave art a try, Kahari said he recognized he had talent. 

“I didn’t start making art until a fews years back, but art has always been there and now I’m learning how to use it,” he said. “I’m creating art everyday, mainly using pen and paper.” 

He added: “It’s kind of hard to do people portraits, so I’ve been doing animal portraits. They come easier to me.”

Advice for other artists: ‘Don’t hide yourself. Just be yourself (through) any form of art.’

– Kahari King

Oliver noted that her students have experienced a lot of different art mediums this school year. “Kahari has expanded a lot of his pen and paper into more mediums like painting and digital art and grown a lot this year,” she said. 

In addition to having his artwork in his hometown restaurant at 415 28th St SE in Grand Rapids, Kahari was awarded a $1,500 scholarship from McDonald’s of Michigan. 

“They were really proud of me,” Kahari said about his family and friends seeing his artwork at McDonalds. 

“I showed his artwork to my classes and a lot of students were really impressed and thought it was really cool,” Oliver said. Ottawa Hills High School’s art program also received $1,000.

From left are Michigan artist Desiree Kelly, Ottawa Hills art teacher Tiffany Oliver, McDonald’s owner/operator Matthew Schulz, and Kahari King, Ottawa Hills students

Empowering, Shaping the Future

Grand Rapids Public Schools Superintendent Leadriane Roby spoke at the 28th St. McDonald’s unveiling.

“As superintendent, my priority is creating a sense of belonging and empowering our scholars to be part of shaping the future for themselves, their classmates, and their community,” she said. “I commend McDonald’s for creating this unique opportunity for our scholars to use their creative talent to celebrate culture and community through art.”

Though he hasn’t decided on specific plans for his scholarship funds, Kahari is thinking about putting it towards art supplies or an iPad with a pen for drawing.

Oliver hopes to use Ottawa Hills’ funds to enhance the art program. 

“With a lot of the materials we explore, I want to enhance what they’re learning and incorporate more materials that I think these students will have interest in,” she said. 

At the end of the video call, Kahari offered his advice to other budding artists. “Don’t hide yourself,” he said. “Just be yourself (through) any form of art.”

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Alexis Stark
Alexis Stark
Alexis Stark is a reporter covering Byron Center, Caledonia, Godfrey-Lee, Kenowa Hills and Thornapple Kellogg. She grew up in metro Detroit and her journalism journey brought her west to Grand Rapids via Michigan State University where she covered features and campus news for The State News. She also co-authored three 100-question guides to increase understanding and awareness of various human identities, through the MSU School of Journalism. Following graduation, she worked as a beat reporter for The Ann Arbor News, covering stories on education, community, prison arts and poetry, before finding her calling in education reporting and landing at SNN. Alexis is also the author of a poetry chapbook, “Learning to Sleep in the Middle of the Bed.”


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