When the street tag movement first rolled into Hawai‘i, the 10 Waipahu teens responsible for the graffiti on the wall of Highway Inn weren’t even a glimmer in their mothers’ eyes. This new era of graffiti creators, however, has one up on the originals – the chance to reach out to mentors and legal outlets to develop their craft.

The 808 Urban Waipahu Junior Chapter demonstrated this when they unveiled their mural pieced high and wide on Highway Inn’s wall, complete with community icons such as the smokestack and a poi bowl. They spent months researching, practicing for, and making mock-ups of the creation, which spells “Aloha” with Waipahu flair.

“They don’t want anyone to look at Waipahu like the ghetto. They want to create beautiful murals to make their community look good and hopefully restore some community pride,” said John “Prime” Hina, a renowned graffiti artist on the islands and founder of 808 Urban, an organization of experienced artists who create murals and advocate for social change.

A year ago, a Waipahu High School student approached Prime about creating a junior chapter of 808 Urban. “I told them it’s not the same, it’s hard to transition over from tagging to actual murals,” Prime said. “All the planning and all the work that goes into it.”

But the chapter’s members, whose ages range from 16 to 18, executed. Not only did they successfully create a mural, they also organized an event that involved a Waipahu-born-and-raised kahu’s blessing, multiple activities, a graffiti battle, musical performances, 30 additional high school volunteers and an attendance of upwards of 200 community members.

Alumni and Waipahu pride of all sorts turned up to support and participate in the unveiling, from graffiti artists Ckaweeks and Quest to Natural Vibrations. Not to mention, the organizers’ families.

“They weren’t telling their parents what they were doing. And now that we had that event yesterday, parents were coming up to me crying, very proud of their kids,” says Prime. “They never knew that these kids had artistic talent because they don’t have art programs in the school.”

Just like the school, 808 Urban also has no funding for youth programs. The mural and event were funded by nearby community businesses, and it will be the same for the four additional murals the junior chapter is working on for Waipahu walls.

For more information on 808 Urban, visit 808urban.org.