Pivot Legal Society - Equality Lifts Everyone

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Your Story, My Story, Our Story

Photo by April Smith of AHA MEDIA

The opening celebration for “Your Story, My Story, Our Story” was bittersweet.  The sweetness was that James Cummings had realized his vision to share a 100 year visual history of the Downtown Eastside. The bitter edge was that James, who passed away last spring, was not there in person to share this moment.

For seven years James worked passionately on this 78 square foot mural. Its 47 panels depict many aspects of the Downtown Eastside community's history, including stories of the First Nations people, Chinese and Japanese Canadians, the Labour movement, the war on drugs and more.

Paul and I participated in a panel discussion reciting James' descriptions of the different historical events and social conditions pictured in the mural. Each of the speakers also added a few words, expanding on the social and historical context of the panels and telling stories of their encounters and relationships with James.

We first came to know James through his photography. Five times he was recognized by Hope in Shadows for his outstanding photography. One of my favorite images is a self-portrait of James. Standing in front of graffiti that reads “When is Jesus coming back with the pork chops”, James shows us a sardonic and humorous side.

During the panel discussion it became clear why James called the mural “Your Story, My Story, Our Story”. As the narratives behind each of the panels emerged it seemed that many speakers and audience memebers had personal connections to the events and places. More than that, the telling of these stories connected all of us to the rich depth of this community’s history.

In the event program it read, "it was James’ wish that the mural will engage viewers to remember their role in the history of the city and inspire people to share their stories with family and friends."

“Your Story, My Story, Our Story” hangs in the atrium of the Vancouver Public Library Central Branch until July 14. Friends of James are also working to exhibit this important mural at the Vancouver Art Gallery before finding a permanent home for it in the Downtown Eastside.

To view video clips of all the speakers at the panel discussion check out AHA Media. And to view James’ photography visit our online gallery.