“I was thinking how can a child be robbed of their future like that,” he recalled. “This was someone who looked like he was going to add a lot of positivity to the world.”
To be painted by Pinder usually means one of two things: You either reached impressive heights in life or you died senselessly.
He has painted the well-known. Among his subjects are Prince, Aretha Franklin, Barack Obama, John McCain and even D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser.
But he has also painted 14-year-old Steve Slaughter, who was fatally shot three times by a would-be robber after buying snacks with two friends; and 10-year-old Makiyah Wilson, who was shot and killed as she walked toward an ice cream truck; and Jamahri Syndor, a 17-year-old who was hit by a stray bullet as she drove through a Northeast D.C. neighborhood days before she was supposed to start college.
The ninth-grade honor roll student at Somerset Prep DC was fatally shot outside a convenience store in the Congress Heights neighborhood Sunday morning. He was one of four people shot in that incident and one of at least 20 people shot in the city in a three-day span.
“It’s sad for this community that we keep seeing this,” Pinder said. “The question now is how do we stop it?”
It’s a question we should all be asking.
After Makiyah Wilson’s death last summer, people marched in her name. They spoke about the danger of hopelessness and the need to invest in young people. The mayor declared, “Enough is enough.”
Yet more bullets, more funerals and more paintings have followed.
Through his art, Pinder has chronicled the toll of the city’s violence in a way that literally requires him to look in the eyes of its victims.
“When things like this come across my phone and my screen, in the middle of everything I got going on, I try to stop for a second and I try to paint a bright picture of a dark situation,” he said. “As I’m painting these pictures, as a young black male, it takes a piece away from me. My heart aches for the family and for the children in these schools.”
Makiyah Wilson’s uncle Mike D’Angelo, who walked from the District to Philadelphia carrying one of Pinder’s paintings with him, said he helped bury children in the city before his niece’s murder, and he has continued to do so after it.
“You know how a snowball goes down a hill and gets bigger and bigger and eventually it has to crash into something,” he told me when we talked this week. “Well, it’s still rolling.”
“These kids when they get killed, they become another hashtag, and then it gets swept under the rug, and it’s on to another,” he said. “So many kids, so many of them, they don’t have a voice no more. They don’t have a chance to say to the people who killed them, ‘Why did you do this? Was it worth it?’ ”
He said people need to start investing in the city’s youth in real ways and dedicating the energy they have spent focused on saving go-go music in the city to saving children who won’t otherwise get to go to those concerts.
He also had this brilliant idea: He said he would love to see Pinder’s paintings of these young people plastered throughout the city. On buses. At schools. On grocery store walls.
“They need to be showcased everywhere these kids go,” he said. They need to be able to see them and say, “Hey, that is Makiyah Wilson.’”
Maybe, he said, seeing those faces will cause them to think differently during those high-stake, split-second decisions they are making.
In recent days, D’Angelo wrote a rap about Scott’s death and posted it on his Instagram page.
It begins: “Damn. 15. We lost another kid. Maurice Scott was from the District where it’s hard to live.”
It ends: “So, before you pick up that gun, understand you take the life of a brother, a mother’s son. More than one life is ended. He’s dead and you’re on the run. His mother is stuck with a funeral that she can’t even fund.”
Pinder said that when he talks to young people in the schools, he always draws a line on the board in front of the room. On one side he writes “positive,” and on the other side he writes “negative.”
He then explains to the students that every morning when they wake up, they have a choice as to whether they are going to contribute positively or negatively to the world.
“It’s a constant decision,” he tells them. “There’s no in between.”
Pinder, who has been dubbed the “hip-hop Picasso,” said he can’t paint all the young people who have been lost to violence in the city but he decided to paint Scott’s image after watching a video of him that circulated across social media Monday.
In it, the teenager talks about what he enjoys: “I like to chill. I like to laugh. I like to joke around. Be coolin’.” And he offers advice to D.C. visitors: “If you come visit, you should visit the White House.”
“It sounded like he was really proud of his city,” Pinder said. “Seeing him smiling and laughing, you could tell he had charisma. You could definitely feel his aura. It just looked like he had a promising future.”