Alumni Stories: “Where Are They Now?”

Edition 10 — Jameel Radcliffe, Artist and Painting Mentor

A Fire Artist

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When Jameel Radcliffe was 19 years old, he already knew he wanted to be an artist. In 2013 he told the Boston Globe,

“Art is definitely going to be a big part of my life for a long time — it can change a lot in a person’s life.”

Since leaving Artists For Humanity as a teen, Jameel has fulfilled his prediction. When I ask him if he would prefer to do a phone call or an on-site interview, he answers with a laugh, “Actually, I’m a Painting Mentor. I can meet with you tomorrow.”

Despite my initial embarrassment at not knowing this, Jameel’s good nature calms my nerves. Meeting him the next day confirms that Jameel is humorous, honest, and self-aware— all qualities of a good mentor.

Looking at Jameel’s abstract paintings now, it’s hard to guess how he first became interested in art.

“Before coming here I wasn’t really exposed to a lot of artwork. Most of what I was exposed to was just what I was watching on TV.”

“Dragon Ball Z was the biggest thing for me as a kid. It got me started in drawing. During my classes at school, I would always doodle in my sketchbooks and get in trouble for it.”

Jameel drew cartoons he saw on TV and doodles in his notebooks during class.

Jameel grew up in Jamaica Plain and went to West Roxbury Academy, where he says there were no art classes while he attended. West Roxbury Academy was one of two local public schools that closed in 2019, amid protests that it would negatively affect students’ mental health and academic performance.

Jameel was introduced to Artists For Humanity by Tenacity, a Boston-based non-profit organization working to reduce opportunity and achievement gaps in Boston Public Schools.

Not only did Jameel finally have a studio space to practice painting, but AFH also supported him in his academics. He knew that completing high school was a necessary step before doing what he loved to do, which was making art. Jameel was one of the first participants in AFH’s after-work educational support program, directed by Lesley Kantlehner.

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Jameel says that AFH tutoring services have only gotten better since he first participated.

“Tutoring didn’t take me away from painting. After I painted for three hours, I went to do my homework and got help for it. When I didn’t have tutoring, I wouldn’t do my homework.”

“Lesley is very supportive and all she really wants is to make sure we do what we have to do to finish up high school. She tries to make it as fun and interesting as possible — and the pizza helped a lot, too.”

AFH’s tutoring services have expanded since Jameel attended. The AFH’s educational support still offers one-on-one tutoring for different subjects based on a teen’s needs. AFH also prepares students for college through SAT tutoring, personal essay workshops, portfolio reviews, and college visits.

“It was like ripping off the bandaid — but I’m very appreciative of it. Without it, I would not have graduated.”

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Jameel visiting his alma mater with teens from AFH.

Jameel graduated from high school and attended Montserrat College of Art, where he could finally draw in class without getting reprimanded. However, Jameel said he already felt like a “real artist” at AFH. His ambition did not waver in college. He assures, “I was very confident in that I wasn’t afraid of negative feedback.”

Jameel thanks one particular AFH Painting Mentor for humbling him when necessary.

“There’s a mentor I had; her name was Maggie Brown. She was very sweet and very nice- but I remember I tried to do my first abstract painting and she told me it wasn’t as strong as I thought it was.”

“I thought, this is my first one. Let me try harder, to do better in the next piece and the next piece.

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“I always try to do the same with my students, to not always give them positive feedback. I always try to give them both sides.”

Since graduating with a degree in painting and returning as a mentor, Jameel looks back on his teen experience to inspire his mentoring style. He understands that teens at AFH learn from each other just as much as they learn from their mentors. Jameel recounts his first impression of Kitauna Parker, his closest friend.

“Kitauna walked up to me and started talking to me. I don’t want to use the word scared, but she made me very nervous,” I laugh knowing Kitauna will one day read this, though his next words make up for it.

“It was a little weird but she ended up being someone very special to me. She’s the first person I met here and I still look up to her.”

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“Sugar Water” 48 x 72. Acrylic on canvas.

“Getting out of high school, we went to different schools and did different things, but we always kept in contact. I’ve always seen her like family. She also made a lot of artwork which I looked up to. She was doing things I’ve never seen before, doing these crazy abstract paintings, I just thought that they were so interesting and I started to emulate that in my work. I wanted to be like her.”

Throughout college, Jameel continued to keep in close contact with AFH. AFH Founder Susan Rodgerson invited Jameel and Kitauna Parker to exhibit their work in the EpiCenter together.

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“Too Much Sauce” 38 x 60. Acrylic on canvas. Jameel and Kitauna’s collaborative piece.

Jameel has always dreamt of greatness, but he’s worked hard in his search for it. He jokingly admits that his willingness to learn balances out his ambition nicely.

In addition to being open-minded to feedback, Jameel made a point to take advantage of all the opportunities that AFH had to offer. He remembers going to art exhibitions as a teenager and talking up his artwork to potential buyers.

“Because of my confidence in my work, I always wanted people to see it. I wanted to feel like other people think I’m as great as I think I am.”

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Jameel looks back on the lessons he learned at AFH as a teenager.

Now Jameel is in the position to mentor others. AFH teens undoubtedly respect his advice as both alumni and mentor — his easy-going and sincere personality affirms this to me.

I ask Jameel if he can offer any wisdom to his younger self. His response is simply to have faith in himself.

“Keep doing what you’re doing. Don’t let people think you’re not good enough. Keep doing what you’re doing and you’re going to be a fire artist.”

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Jameel’s figurative paintings, which demonstrate both an understanding of painting techniques and a willingness to learn.

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CREATIVE JOBS FOR CREATIVE TEENS

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