Oregon artist inspires Black youth through portrait drawings displayed in schools

OREGON, Wis. — Desere Mayo’s passion for drawing emerged when she was three years old. Mayo said she had a teacher who showed her how to draw an Asian girl and since then, Mayo said, “It was the greatest picture and ever since then I’ve been drawing people.”

Mayo attended the Art Institute of Pittsburgh for a quarter where she learned how to shade. She said her drawings typically just end up in a sketchbook, until recently, Cesar Chavez Elementary School Principal Kelly Lawler took a liking to them.

“I was just blown away at her talent,” Lawler said.

Portraits 1

Mayo’s kids used to attend Cesar Chavez Elementary. Out of the 601 students enrolled, 22% identify as Hispanic/Latinx, 12% Black, 8% Asian, 49% white, 0.3% American Indian/Alaska native, 0.1% Hawaiian/Pacific Island and 8% multiracial.

During a Black Excellence Assembly, Mayo showcased a time-lapse video of her portrait drawings of famous African American figures. Students read the biographies of these figures to learn about them and their contributions.

In an effort to make the school more inclusive to its diverse population of students, Lawler bought nine portrait drawings from the assembly presentation. The portraits now hang proudly in the school library. Students have not yet seen the drawings due to the restrictions from the pandemic. But Lawler said when students return to school in the fall, “I’m hoping they will feel pride in seeing someone who looks like them and seeing someone who represents a potential for their future.”

Portraits 2

Mayo said she wants to try to sell her art to other schools and school districts soon to inspire more students who may not see themselves represented in ways they should be.

“They need to see themselves on the walls,” Mayo said. “They need to see the state representative who was the first Black woman to be State Representative. They need to see she was first, maybe I can be second. They need to see I can be an inventor, I can be a speaker, I can be a teacher, I can do this.”

Mayo said she hopes students can see or use art in the same way that inspired her when she was a child.

“To know that they can,” she said.  “To see that there’s people around here who want them to achieve, set goals and make their goals and know that everything is going to work out.”

Mayo has drawn dozens of portraits of famous celebrities, prominent historical figures and even dabbles in other forms of art like jewelry making, etching and button creations. If you are interested in Mayo’s art or would like to make a personal request, you can reach out to here on Facebook here or you can email her at designbymayo@icloud.com