In his duties as a coach and teacher at the Kingsman Academy Public Charter School in Northeast, Wiley Brown is always looking for ways to inspire his students.
After recently performing with The Chuck Brown Band, Brown spoke with his friend Demont “Picasso” Pinder, who had just created a painting, live, of Brown’s father, the late go-go legend.
When Pinder asked to speak at the school where Brown teaches, Brown quickly asked, “Can you come Friday?”
“I love speaking to the youth,” Pinder said. “I’d come every day if I could.”
Pinder happened to be hosting philanthropist Valerie Castile in Washington that same day and so a unique confluence of art and activism was brought to about 20 jersey-clad members of the football team who sat spellbound by Brown and Castile’s stories.
Castile’s firstborn son Philando worked in the Minnesota school system as a cook until he was killed by police during a traffic stop on July 6, 2016. The incident was highly controversial as the police alternately claimed that Castile had a broken taillight and also that he “fit the description” of a robbery suspect who had a wide-set nose.
Castile Informed the police he had a licensed firearm in the car and appeared to comply with the officer’s directions before being fatally wounded while still wearing his seat belt.
The live-streaming of the incident by Castile’s girlfriend, whose daughter was sitting in the back seat of the car, went viral and added to a long list of police-involved fatalities against African Americans highlighted by the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Although the officer was acquitted of second-degree manslaughter, Castile’s mother received a $3 million settlement that she used to start the Philando Castile Foundation which has given college scholarships and grants to school systems to provide school meals for underprivileged youth.
Since then she has also appeared on numerous panels advocating for the victims of police and gun violence. She came to D.C. with a message of hope but also of caution for the young student-athletes attending Kingsman.
Castile emphasized the need to be compliant and careful when dealing with the police as a young black man in America. “I did everything humanly possible to protect my son by giving him the information that he needed to be a productive citizen,” she said. If you want to carry a gun, you get your permit to carry. He did all of that. He was responsible, he was respectful, but he was still killed by the police.”
Castile continued, warning, “Racism is real but you have to be smart. If you’re driving a car[or] walking down the street and you have an encounter with the police, try to do whatever they ask you to do.”
She also urged the students to create change by being active in politics. “You guys are the future leaders of this country. Continue to go to school [and] get your education. Be that police officer, be that congressman, be that senator, be that president!”
Pinder has created several custom and commissioned works for victims of violence throughout the country, including a commemorative painting he presented to the parents of 18-year old Nia Wilson, the victim of a random stabbing by a white man at a train station in Oakland, California this past July. “It brought smiles to the grieving family,” Pinder said.
“I’ve been blessed to have my talent as an artist and to go around the country and the world and express myself,” he explained. “As [Valerie Castile] will tell you my art is a healing tool. My calling is using my God-given gift to bring a smile to the families that have gone through this tragic situation.”
Afterward, as they crowded for selfies the students seemed appreciative of the message and the experience.
High school Junior Latrell McCants, 17, said, “I learned a lot. She’s definitely a strong lady.”