The Empathy Project – LEE

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


Artist statement by Jane Gabrielle

The Lee family made Nickalas come to life in vivid color.  I tried to reflect his many loves in his mural.

The White Doves.  This is a drawing the talented Nickalas drew.  After the young man passed, his family members had this tattooed on them as a remembrance.  Here, the birds represent his family, still carrying on in the face of unbearable loss.  Birds are a symbol of message from spirit.  They fly to the left as a caution to other families.  The one message the family wants to send is:  Yes!  There are gangs in our high schools!

Characters at horizon line.  Nickalas’ silhouette is third from left carrying a fishing pole and giving the hand sign for “love”.  That hand signal was used among the family to convey their love.  The young man is surrounded by some characters he particularly liked. From left to right: Michael Jackson, Avatar, Thelma, Scooby and Shaggy, Shrek and Donkey.  A smoking grill sits among them inviting all to a feast; Nickalas loved to eat!  A yellow brick road leads to the horizon for he also loved “The Wizard of Oz”.

Palm trees and fishing pole.  Nickalas’ family lived in South Carolina before moving to Roanoke.  They had enjoyed fishing trips on Carolina waters.  The sea air inferred here invokes Nickalas’ love of these trips and eating shrimp.

Images of Nickalas.  The graduation after a stunning photograph by long time Patrick Henry art teacher Fletcher Nichols.  Nickalas on the right as a young man flashing his contagious smile.  The bottom image is represented as a mask, the persona he put on to navigate gang-affiliated acquaintances.  The portraits are surrounded by butterflies and roses which some family members said makes them feel Nichalas’ presence.  

“Love Sign” from Roanoke, Virginia.  As a journey of healing, Nichalas’ family has traveled to many of the different LOVE signs all over Virginia.

Heart Compass.  Nickalas led with his heart.  It is this instinct that made him refuse to allow someone to be killed.  It is this decision that ultimately led to his murder.

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