I was honored when I received Akyra Monet Montgomery as a subject. She was the youngest victim at Pulse and had a bright future ahead of her. I know her parents will most likely be the beneficiaries of this portrait and I really struggled with that. I tried to paint this beautiful girl and capture all that happiness and peace I saw in her face. As an artist I always feel like I’m falling short. So I painted two portraits. Beyond my artwork I shared her story with my students and we talked about her legacy. We talked about how, every day, we can make the world a better place just by loving one another and being positive. I hope that sentiment brings her family some comfort. I will carry Akyra in my heart and talk about her story with lots and lots of kids.
I am a junior high art teacher in Sheridan Arkansas, which is about 45 minutes outside of Little Rock. I am married to an awesome guy, Daken, and we have two little boys; Hank, 8 and Knox, 4. I absolutely love my job as an art teacher and consider it my way of contributing to my community. I think teachers can create such change. I am only in my second year but hope to become one of those teachers kids remember as an ally in their corner. I hope that my classroom is a reason they come to school and gives them an outlet to express themselves. Prior to becoming a teacher I spent 15 years as a working artist, creating murals in many homes, painting portraits, and creating custom works of art for designers. I’ve made and sold lots of art to make ends meet, but when people ask me, “what’s the coolest thing you’ve ever done?” I always respond “becoming a mother.” It’s the truth, my boys are the best thing I’ve ever made. When my students ask why I drive 55 minutes to teach them (I live in Hot Springs), I tell them, “YOU.” It’s true, they are worth every minute.1