A colorful, new mural at Harriet Bishop Elementary School spreads a message of love and inclusion after racist vandalism targeted a nearby neighborhood this fall.

The hand-painted mural spans the wall inside the school’s main entrance and is filled with a growing number of personal messages and hearts.

“Hate is strong, but we are stronger,” one student wrote.

“It shows that we’re all a big family,” Kiera Liyanage, a fifth-grade service club member, said.

In September, a racist slur was spray-painted on a street in Savage’s Dufferin Park neighborhood and in a private driveway.

Neighbors and city leaders acted quickly to cover the vandalism, filling the sidewalk with positive chalk messages. The public works department completed a temporary sealcoat of the driveway that morning.

Becky Koch, a social worker at Harriet Bishop, said the incident was directed at one of the school’s families.

“The father shared with us that what he hoped came out of this was that people recognized that we all belong and it doesn’t matter where we come from or what our background is — we all belong here,” she said.

With those words in mind, Koch and others began brainstorming how to take an isolating act and “help grow love out of that situation.”

Local artist Amber Alteir painted the tree from a design found online, and the hearts and messages were added by students, staff and other community members.

The hearts were inspired by a heart-shaped leaf that fell on the sidewalk near the graffiti.

School Principal Ken Essay stands in front of the mural each morning and welcomes students to school with high-fives.

“It’s my favorite time of every day,” he said. “You catch the energy, you catch the excitement, and you also catch if there’s something that’s happening outside in someone’s life and you can reach out. It starts here.”

vHe said the mural builds on their ultimate mission to create an environment where everyone feels welcomed.

“They can take that positivity and message into their whole day,” service club member Meena Pothini said.

The hearts on the mural aren’t identical; even the kindergartners helped cut them out. Meena said they knew none of the hearts would be perfect, which was part of the design.

“Everyone is different, and the hearts are all different shapes and colors,” she said.

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