College-bound NPS graduate hopes to advocate for Newark kids

Recent Arts High School graduate, Kayla Muldrow, will be attending Cooper Union in the fall Credits: Kayla Muldrow
"Self-Portrait 7," acrylic on canvas by Kayla Muldrow Credits: Kayla Muldrow

“We are all homeless until we express ourselves.”

This is the first line of "Art is Home," a rhythmic, reflective poetic piece written by recent Arts High School graduate Kayla Muldrow—one that typifies the young artist's relationship with creative expression.

Muldrow, an accomplished artist and poet, recently won a scholarship to Cooper Union and will be attending the prestigious arts college in New York’s East Village in the fall.

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Muldrow, who plans on pursuing a career as a freelance artist, has participated in a variety of art showings throughout Newark, as well as 'Stand and Deliver,' a national speech and debate program in which her poem, “The American Dream,” made it to the final round of the poetry competition.

In addition, “Art is Home" was the inspiration behind Arts High School’s “Art is Home from Cherry Blossoms in Winter,” an Arts High School art installation held in Branch Brook Park in December.

Muldrow, who attended Irvington's Berkeley Terrace Elementary School and later moved to Newark’s Central Ward, comes from a family of artists—her mother, grandmother, sisters and aunt are all artists themselves—and it didn’t take long for Muldrow to follow in their stead.

“I like to express myself in as many ways as I can,” Muldrow said, who enjoys painting and drawing in a variety of mixed media. “I started drawing in the first grade. Art runs in my family; my aunt was always drawing and it kind of jump-started my style. At Arts High School I was an art major, and I basically had a lot of time to indulge in my art.”

Muldrow said AHS helped shape and guide her creativity.

“AHS really helped me because they exposed me to so much,” she said, noting that before attending the school she had not taken an art class or visited a gallery. “The best part were the teachers—the teachers will give you any supplies you need, along with any advice you need.”

AHS art teacher Bob Richardson, who Muldrow describes as her mentor, said that he and Muldrow have collaborated on art showings together.

“It’s really an honor for me,” Richardson said. “She has such a positive energy. She’s done amazing work. And her words are as powerful as her visible images.”

Richardson said that Muldrow’s openness and willingness to experiment has helped make her a standout talent.

“Kayla is always out there,” he said. “Certainly, there was something special with her that she was willing to share with the class. She’s open to sharing and experimenting. She took risks and chances and challenges herself. She searched for the voice inside her and it really brought her to a good place.”

Muldrow is one of a growing number of NPS graduates who have been accepted into top colleges and universities this year. 

NPS seniors will be attending over 135 colleges, universities, and vocational schools across the United States, with 75 percent of graduating seniors attending two or four year colleges or universities.. 

Collectively, NPS seniors have already received $15,728,233 in scholarships from a wide range of colleges, universities, community organizations and additional institutions across the United States.

State District Superintendent of Newark Public Schools Christopher Cerf praised Muldrow’s achievements.

“Students at Arts High School exemplify a skill set and commitment to the arts that is exemplary in their chosen field,” Cerf said. “I commend Kayla on her acceptance to Cooper Union, one of our nation’s foremost colleges for the arts, and wish her well as she continues on her path to prominence in the arts.”

Muldrow is the recipient of the superintendent's 3 E Award, given to NPS seniors who represent the best in Equity, Effort and Excellence. A total of 88 students were honored this year at the awards ceremony, including valedictorians, salutatorians and students from each high school.

Muldrow hopes to return to Newark upon completion of her studies to advocate for the expansion of creative arts into Newark schools.

“In elementary school, art was not emphasized,” she said. “I want to come back to Newark to specifically influence the push for arts in high schools."

Jeremy Johnson, executive director of Newark Arts—an organization dedicated to promoting the arts in Newark—said that gains have been made in getting more arts programs in district schools, but that more needs to be done.

“As Newark rises, it’s critical that the accessibility to art also rises in our schools,” he said. “I’m so excited that Kayla wants to return to Newark. The idea of young people coming back just really makes my heart sing.”

Johnson said that historically, Newark Arts has advocated for more arts programs in schools.

“There’s a whole array of arts connections in Newark, and to not have kids have access to it would be a shame,” he said. “Kayla is on to a movement, and the movement is real. People’s perspectives of Newark are changing. In Newark, a little art goes a long way, and there’s more coming. You ain’t seen nothing yet.”

Richardson described Muldrow as an activist and changemaker.

“I know she’s very concerned with changing what’s not right,” he said. “She’s very much concerned with social issues. As a young black woman, lots of what’s she’s concerned about comes out in her artwork. For her to get into Cooper Union—it’s because she worked hard starting from freshman year.”

In her poem, Muldrow writes, "We are homeless until we can move how we want to move, and do what we love to do."

And Muldrow is taking her words to heart.

"Things need to change," she said. "There needs to be more push for children in urban cities to express themselves.”

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