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‘Graffiti Gang’ reunites in Shepherdstown

By Staff | Aug 12, 2011

The weekend's Graffiti Gang reunion festivities included the planting and dedication of “The Graffiti Tree” at the home of Nelson Smith and his partner Paul Garrard. Garrard is one of the original members of the Graffiti Gang. (submitted)

In January 1975, 19 students from Samford University in Birmingham, Ala., piled into two vans and a car and headed to New York City for the trip of a lifetime. Their mission was to convert an abandoned building on the Lower East Side into a community center for children and ministry, and they had just one week to do it.

To say the trip was a success would be a major understatement, as 36 years later, that abandoned building is now the headquarters of the Graffiti Community Ministries, which includes a three-story, 13,000 square-foot building right across the street called the East Seventh Street Baptist Church/Graffiti Center.

Last month, at the end of July, some of the original members of the Graffiti Gang, along with their spouses, partners and their fearless leader “Esther Mom” Burroughs, former director of Campus Ministries at Samford, reunited in none other than Shepherdstown to celebrate the original mission and the ministry it has generated in the New York City area.

The group coined the name “Graffiti” for the mission after it became clear that the entire side of the original building, completely covered with graffiti, would be covered yet again after the project was completed and the outside wall was freshly painted. The group decided to encourage the obvious, and thus the name “Graffiti” was born.

The weekend’s festivities included the planting and dedication of “The Graffiti Tree.”