- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 30, 2015

WILMINGTON, Del. (AP) - Marketta Mangrum looked at the portrait 15-year-old Jaylynn Hernandez clutched in her hands Tuesday night and began telling her stories about the child’s late father whose image was painted on the canvas.

The girl was told how her father, Jose “Anthony” Hernandez Jr., used to make snow cones and how playful he was with children at the store where he worked. Mangrum laughed as she told the stories during a Tuesday event meant to bring comfort to family members who have lost a loved one to violence over the past years.

“It lets you know that you are not alone,” said Mangrum, whose 19-year-old son, Raekwon Mangrum, was shot dead earlier this year as he walked with an 18-year-old woman in Wilmington.

Her son’s portrait was among the 16-by-20-inch canvases that Aaron “Black Picasso” Ray painted in hopes of reminding families who have lost a loved one that someone was still thinking of them. He also wanted to bring attention to the violence, which has left 27 people dead in Wilmington so far this year.

Ray said he began drawing five portraits to present to grieving families. That quickly became 10.

The subjects he chose for the portraits range from an infant who died last year after she was taken to a hospital with heavy bruising and brain injuries to Hernandez’s 2010 unsolved homicide in Wilmington. And because violence extends beyond Wilmington’s borders, Ray’s subjects also included people killed outside Delaware’s largest city.

“Each one of these photos is a memory,” he said. “And I just brought that memory to life, through art.”

Smiles appeared on the faces of arriving family when they saw portraits of their loved ones - and of others.

Trina Ferguson, who was there to pick up a portrait of her nephew, Thomas Ferguson, looked at the wall and began naming others in the pictures. If she didn’t know them, she knew their family members.

“I love the portraits. They’re beautiful,” she said. “The deceased are actually speaking out to me.”

“All these families that have pictures of their deceased ones, they will be very happy,” she said.

The portraits let Paula Brown know that her son, Daron Allen, is not just a memory for her.

“I know he’s gone, but he’s not forgotten,” she said. “We just want justice for our son.”

His 2014 homicide remains unsolved.

The presentation was held at Studio 2L - Ray’s business located at 1925 W. Fourth St. in Wilmington. Through his business, which specializes in tattoos and other artwork, Ray knew most of the people whose portraits he painted. Over the years, Ray has been hired by bereaved family members and friends to commission clothing items, usually T-shirts, to pay homage to a slain loved one.

Because he knew most of the people he painted or he knew their loved ones, Ray said he was motivated.

“It makes me happy that I can do something for the families,” he said.

He also hopes that any person who has information on any unsolved homicides will go to police after they see how families are still suffering.

“It might be a motivation for other people to do something,” he said.


Information from: The News Journal of Wilmington, Del., https://www.delawareonline.com

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