Valley Student Inspires Refugees Through Art

Yona, a third-grader, was one of the many refugee children who participated in the My Art, My Story community event in July. Find his profile here. Photo: Parker Johnson

Writer: Allaire Nuss

Parker Johnson believes everyone has a story. That’s why the Valley High School senior launched My Art, My Story, a community event and online gallery providing a platform for Iowa’s child refugees to tell their stories through art.

“There are lots of unique experiences the refugees have, particularly young refugees,” Johnson says. “Allowing them the chance to tell their stories, or even just simply to get the chance to have access to art (which isn’t an opportunity they always have) is just something I’m really keen on pursuing.”

The initial event took place at Evelyn K. Davis Park in July. Each child received a sheet of paper with an outline of Iowa to draw on however they pleased. As they colored, volunteers helped children draw inspiration from their backgrounds. Bubbles and other outdoor activities were also available for the children to play with.

“I think art as a whole is really universal,” Johnson says. “Anybody can see it or understand it. … [The children] were grinning from ear to ear.”

The result can be seen on There, you’ll find pictures of children holding their creations and little profiles about their lives and interests. You can buy a book with all of the artwork for $25 as well, benefiting Des Moines Refugee Support.

Johnson’s interest in helping refugees began when his family helped another family from Myanmar adjust to life in Iowa. Only 5 at the time, Johnson’s most prominent memory was playing with the family’s young son.

“I didn’t really understand that anything was out of the ordinary,” Johnson says. “I think that’s kind of what has compelled me to help refugees today. Kids don’t really know the difference between kids who they’re familiar with and kids from other countries. All kids just seem to be kids.”

My Art, My Story is also meant to spread a message to Des Moines.

“These kids live in the same community we do,” Johnson says. “I think [the project] gave lots of kids a chance to be able to broadcast their art and their talents to the larger community.”

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