Not A Crime, a campaign to promote education and equality in Iran through street art, has launched its latest mural in Dallas, Texas. A student community group headed up by Sina Sarvestani, who works at Sam Tasby Middle School, organized the initiative.
The murals — which are increasing in number and spreading around the world, including in South Africa, Brazil and the United Kingdom — have inspired grassroots efforts to support the campaign in raising awareness about education inequality in Iran.
NotACrime works to stop the human rights abuse of Iranian Baha’is – who are barred from studying and teaching at universities because of their beliefs – and encourages universities around the world to admit Iranian Baha’i students. Former Newsweek journalist and IranWire director Maziar Bahari, whose incarceration in an Iranian prison became the subject of Jon Stewart’s film Rosewater, started the project.
After the school’s principal approved the idea to participate in the campaign, Sarvestani encouraged students from the area to paint a collaborative mural across the street from the school. “We wanted to give a voice to the voiceless,” Sarvestani said. “Some of us have friends and family who are currently in prison in Iran, or had to move here to access higher education.”
As well as creating the mural, the group organized a screening of To Light A Candle, a documentary film about the situation of Baha’is in Iran directed by journalist Maziar Bahari. The screening was followed by a panel discussion featuring graduates from the Baha’i Institute of Higher Education (BIHE), an underground university in Iran. These students, with their qualifications from the BIHE, were able to secure places on Master’s programs in Dallas. At the event, the post-graduate students shared their experiences of education discrimination in Iran, and the frustration and pain of having to leave their homeland to pursue an education abroad.
“The events sparked a lot of interest in the wider community about the EducationIsNotACrime campaign,” Sarvestani explained about their successes. “Several teachers spoke to their classes about education inequality in Iran, one of whom dedicated an entire lesson to 150 6th graders on the topic.”
The students printed T-shirts featuring the campaign logo “Not A Crime” and sold over 100 to people attending the events. Sarvestani said the T-shirts were popular among both staff and students, many of whom still wear them. And the events have led to further action and creativity: “Some students have been inspired to write poems, make short videos and paintmini murals in support of the campaign,” Sarvestani said.
Sarvestani was delighted that D Magazine, a well known Dallas-based publication with a circulation of 60,000, covered the event. Sam Tasby Middle School’s newsletter also highlighted the campaign and the event.
Sarvestani said he hoped the campaign would encourage others around the world to take action. “Start something, even if it’s small scale, because you never know what could emerge from it. It all started with a small drawing, which eventually inspired more people to come together and create a mural. We attracted a lot of attention locally, as well as assistance from our local community.”