An international participatory art project started by French photographer JR made its way to a Bronx school last week. Students at Bronx Envision Academy capped off a school year art project with larger-than-life murals of themselves and a collaborative poem, "Strong Enough To Carry The Earth." "It is inspiring because we are able to express ourselves. Showing a picture of ourselves with a quote that we want to say to the world. We get to be who we are versus what society thinks," ninth grader Leandro Delgado said in the schoolyard. "Sometimes you act the way society wants you to be and you don’t get to be who you really are. This project lets people be who they are."

Ninth graders at the school collaborated with non-profit arts group Community-Word Project over the course of 24 weeks. Students explored how they are "Strong Enough To Carry The Earth," by examining poetry of Sandra Cisneros, Daniel Beaty, Maya Angelou, and Jamaal May; the artwork of Emma Amos, Bryan Collier, and symbols from all cultures around the world from the ancient to the modern.

The students' portraits were printed as huge posters, thanks to Inside Out project which were then wheat-pasted onto the walls of the school, with words from their poem attached.

Photograph by David 'Dee' Delgado / Gothamist

"I think the collaborative poem is really powerful," Bronx Envision Academy principal Emily Shu said. "It speaks to the optimism and dreams that our students have. The images are also really powerful. The fact that they need to work together to make this entire space change is inspiring."

The ninth graders were equally enthusiastic, especially about the larger impact of the project. "This project makes me feel good about the community; it shows different cultures of people in one image. And it shows that we are the same people," student Widgie Poulaille said. "My favorite part of the project was when we started writing the poems because it showed that even from different nationalities we can still put the same mindsets of what we think. This project shows that everyone can work together, even if it’s late, that we try to make something better."

"It made the students realize that they had it in them to work together and positively impact their community," agreed Michele Kotler, executive director of Community-Word Project. "It gave them the opportunity to experience the power of their own image and what their images come together to create. It made students recognize the power of choosing how they want to be seen in the world versus how they believe the world sees them."

Student Eliana Grajales added, "This makes me feel really good because most of these quotes on the pictures [are statements] not a lot of people have the courage to say to adults, or anyone out here."