How One Student Connected Flags to Connect Our Community

We first introduced Farhan, our paid summer intern, last July 2021. At the time, he was  one of many teens across the country taking part in the Public Library Association’s Inclusive Internship Initiative. He came to PPL to begin his internship with an idea: to develop a connected learning project, one that weaved together his love of libraries while reinforcing and strengthening inclusion and representation in this space. His vision also included giving back to his community.

With the encouragement of Teen Librarian, Kelley Blue, Farhan worked with community members to create individual flags.

Out of this clear vision the WELCOME banner was born – a colorful banner featuring a collection of over 200 hand-designed and colored flags from around the world, including flags from the principal nations of the Wabanaki Confederacy as well as the original state flag of Maine.

We recently sat down with Farhan to talk about this project and how the creative process shaped the final piece. Here’s what we learned:

A TRUE COMMUNITY EFFORT: In addition to the 30 individual flags Farhan created himself, he also invited community to be part of the process. With support from the Downtown Library’s Teen Library staff, Farhan worked with several neighborhood locations including PPL’s Riverton Branch and the Boys & Girls Club of Southern Maine to add flags. Additionally, the flag project attended two community block parties organized by the Portland Youth Network.

CREATIVITY CONNECTS: Despite the occasional challenge of  keeping both adults and kids focused (candy helped as an incentive!) on the creative task of honoring the details of each flag’s unique colors and symbols, the process brought people of all ages and backgrounds together.

EACH FLAG HAS A STORY: Over colored pencils and candy wrappers, artists young and old reflected on their countries and cities – sharing stories about their homes, cultures, and loved ones living locally and abroad.

“I already knew a lot about geography so when people would tell me where they were from I would recognize their country. Through this project and these conversations, I gained even more  knowledge. I also discovered there are lot of people from Western Africa in Portland.” – Farhan

The finished flag hangs in the Teen Library located at the Downtown Location.

A CITY OF HOPE: Farhan is optimistic, noting that both the City of Portland and Portland Public Library does an excellent job of welcoming people. Reflecting on his personal experiences and conversations, he is quick to share that his friendships at school, and within his community and the Teen Library have been positive. He has always felt comfortable and included.

Today, Farhan’s dynamic banner, which spans 10-ft wide, hangs for all to enjoy in the Teen Library. When Farhan looks up at this work, he feels proud and admittedly, a bit in awe that dozens of disconnected, loose index cards have come together to symbolize unity and representation. His hope is that visitors will look up and see the flag of their homeland as a symbol that while our respective colors and symbols are distinctive, we are all part of this dynamic city, part of this this dynamic public space – and we are all welcome.  “Farhan’s goal with this project was for every person who walks into the Teen Library to feel like they belong here and are welcome. His vision perfectly aligns with the values of all public libraries, and his mural is a true achievement. Whether Farhan chooses a career in libraries or any other field, he will make an impact on his community.” – Kelley Blue, Teen Librarian

Farhan’s best advice to other students or interns embarking on their own internship journey is to simply “have fun and be yourself.” Great advice, Farhan!

posted: , by Heather Wasklewicz
tags: Adults | Teens | Teen Events | Discover Portland | Seniors | Art & Culture | Welcome | News
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