The Empathy Project – GIRTY

Markel Girty
Nickalas Lee
Brooks Mullen
Jimmie Lee Penn, Sr. and Jamie LeVar Penn, Sr.


Artist statement by Jane Gabrielle

Our team spent several sessions with members of the Girty family.  The first time, Markel’s young children were present.  Sensing they needed some engagement in the room full of adults and heavy conversation, I got them drawing and coloring.  The sketch in the foreground is what Markel’s son drew.  Perhaps it was sitting with this precious boy who had lost his father so very young.  Or perhaps it was coloring unicorns with Markel’s baby girl, born just days after his murder. But there is no doubting the weight of this family’s grief.  Markel’s brother summed it up the best.  He said, “The world changed color when I lost my brother.  It’s not the same Earth”.  It feels like all the color was drained from these lives when Markel Girty died.

A clock holding the remains of Markel sits on a table by the window.  It bears his name.  The clock strikes twice an hour; at ten of the hour and twenty-five past the hour.  The clock cannot be changed no matter the tinkering.  The family realized that ten of the hour is when the 911 call came and twenty-five after is when Markel Girty was pronounced dead. I gave the clock wings to illuminate Markel’s place, now among the angels. 

I included owls in the piece as a blessing to the family of wisdom, knowledge and protective energies.  The heart with the missing puzzle piece communicates the hole Markel’s death left.

There is much about Markel that I could not illustrate.  His humor and laughter.  Everyone says he lit up a room with his humor.  His love of food, particularly his Mother’s cooking. His fierce love for his child and his mate. His protectiveness of his sister and all her friends. There is heartache here for which I have no colors.  The two days off for bereavement typical for most employers simply is not enough.  The expectation of co-workers and friends to “snap out of it”.  “It”, this bottomless grief, this unrelenting cold of emptiness.  Even as Markel was in the ambulance en route to the hospital, the police attempted to arrest Markel’s girlfriend simply because he was driving her car.  The dream a mother had just before that day.  Waking up and feeling she needed to warn him….but, about what?

Markel Girty’s murder was random.  It could have been any of us in front of that shooter that day.