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Non-Profit Helps Homeless Artist to Find His Way

Bridge Over Troubled Waters Staff Helps Shukry Juma, 22, to Develop as an Artist

Asst. Metro Editor

Published: Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Updated: Thursday, October 10, 2013 01:10

When Elyse Bush, A&S ’16, was exploring her PULSE placement at Bridge Over Troubled Waters, a Boston organization dedicated to high-risk and homeless youth, she encountered something unexpected.

“I was touring their main center, and one of the things that struck me was the artwork on the walls,” Bush said. “It was so elaborate and it showed that the person who did it was extremely talented and intelligent.”

Bush, who works for a branch of the Residence Hall Association (RHA) called the Student Programming Council (SPC), is in part responsible for planning the upcoming event BC Street, scheduled for Oct. 18. BC Street will be making its second appearance at Boston College, and strives to create an urban, Bostonian vibe on BC’s own campus. When she saw the artwork on the walls, Bush instantly thought of this event.

“I wanted to bring that type of artwork to BC,” she said.

Bush inquired about the artwork to Jennifer Cale, the PULSE coordinator at Bridge and one of the organization’s GED instructors.

“My main role is working with Bridge kids who are in the GED program,” Cale said. “But I am throughout the building quite a bit, which is how I found Juma.”

Shukry Juma, who has been in Bridge’s Transitional Day Program for about a year, is the artist who crafted the works that Bush noticed on her tour.

Referred to primarily as “Juma,” the 22-year-old could not be more thankful to all that Bridge has done for him—especially giving him the chance to practice his craft.

When Juma wakes up on any given morning, he goes right to Bridge’s location at 47 West St. near the Boston Common, where he said that staff members “appreciated” his art and helped him to realize that his artistic pursuits are worthwhile.

Bridge began its social work in the 1970s, and began offering a transitional living program in 1982 to help young people build job skills and save money in the hopes of transitioning to a life of independence. Even with the addition of Bridge, a transitional living program was offered by only nine agencies in the country at the time. In 1996, Bridge began its Transitional Day Program, which was designed to be a safe haven for homeless youth on a daily basis.

“Come to Bridge,” Juma said of his daily life. “Do what I got to do, clean up, get something to eat, meet with other artists.” Juma especially enjoys talking to other artists at Bridge—an opportunity he said he would not have otherwise. Bridge also provides him with his artistic materials, such as paint and brushes.

“I really do appreciate it,” he said. “They do a lot for me.”

Cale, who works on the fifth floor of Bridge’s building, discovered Juma’s artwork when she would trek down to the second floor, where Juma spends most of his time.

“His artwork has kind of always been on my radar because he does a lot of mural work for Bridge,” Cale said.

When Bush and Cale asked whether or not Juma would be interested in working on a backdrop for BC Street, he did not hesitate.

“It sounded fun,” Juma said, “with the paintbrushes and the paint cans and just being able to go at it. Plus, being able to get my work out there and having people see it.”

Juma was given materials to begin work on the backdrop for BC Street on Tuesday. Though Juma will be paid to complete the backdrop, Bush said that she “didn’t really consider it him getting something from us,” but instead sees it as BC receiving something from Juma.

“It’s a great thing for BC to experience the artwork of someone who is really in the midst of a life that most of us can’t really compare to,” she said.

Juma’s work for BC is not his only significant pursuit, however.

As part of a team of young Bridge participants, Juma entered a mural contest run by the National Clearinghouse for Families and Youth this past March. Their sketch won the contest, and they are now working to convert it into a full-scale and portable mural.

The sketch depicts an individual scaling the side of a pyramid toward a fountain of colors at the top, a representation of the journey to overcome homelessness.

“I am influenced by people around me and their situations,” Juma said of inspiration for his artwork.

“Just everywhere.”

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