On Sunday, May 19, at 11a.m., Chicago artist Milton Coronado, equipped with paint supplies, arrived at the corner of 16th Street and Newberry Avenue in Pilsen, and began work on a mural, dedicated to Marlen Ochoa-Lopez, the nine-months pregnant, Chicago mother who was strangled to death and had her baby ripped from her womb.
Since her disappearance on April 23, Coronado had followed the story on Facebook; on May 17, when the Chicago Police announced that the remains of Lopez-Ochoa’s body had been found, he felt an undeniable duty to retrieve his paint brush. At the time, little did he know that he and Marlen shared the same faith.
Coronado’s introduction to art began at the age of five when, after the passing of his mother, he began drawing. “I kind of slowed down with it when I was in middle school,” he reflects. Later, in high school, he returned to drawing but this time with more fervor; by his junior year, he was airbrushing t-shirts. During his senior year, he was introduced to graffiti. Quickly overcoming his fear of getting caught and being punished, Coronado found himself addicted to graffiti art.
Coronado graduated high school in 1998 and attended the American Academy of Art in downtown Chicago. There, surrounded by fellow graffiti artists, he immersed himself in the world of graffiti art. During his last year of college, at the age of 21, he devoted himself fully to graffiti.
During his last year at the American Academy of Art, another life-changing event transpired — the untimely tragic death of his father. Although Coronado had been a Seventh-day Adventist for most of his life, it was in coping with the loss of his father that he came to know God for himself. Here he turned to the Bible and Ellen White’s The Desire of Ages. “Every chapter that I read would leave me bawling. I was in crying. I was just in shock. I was humbled. I felt little. I felt undeserving, but at the same time, deserving of God’s grace in my life,” He recalls about reading The Desire of Ages. “I think it was that reading, along with prayer and being connected to pastors in my life that were checking on me, reaching out, giving me council, that really grounded me in my faith and made believe that this was the church with the right message.”
Following this new-found conviction, Coronado resolved to be more involved with the youth ministry at his local church which resulted in his becoming the youth leader. He soon found himself giving a seminar at the then Broadview Adventist Academy, a former boarding school in Chicago’s far west suburbs. The principal of the school approached him after the seminar and subsequently offered him the position of Assistant Dean, which he accepted. A year later, the school closed its doors, leading the Hinsdale Fil-Am Church to hire him as the youth pastor. Currently, in addition to leading the Street Art Ministries for the NAD, Coronado also is a case worker for the city of Chicago, serving on the frontlines, assisting as many in need as he can.
When asked about his inspiration for the mural, Milton responds, “Two things: one, her story. Two, my story. Let me start with the latter. When my father passed away, obviously I was in a very deep place of grief. I felt like I couldn’t just give up on life. I felt like I owed it to my parents who taught me about Jesus, to learn more about Him. I realized art also can help me and help others.”
Coronado decided he would draw a mural of his father. “It wasn’t until three years ago that I was able to do the mural. I realized how healing it can be, like art therapy,” he added. When his wife suggested it would be worthwhile to paint a mural of Lopez-Ochoa, he responded, “You know what? I should!” He began to reflect on his father’s mural and how therapeutic it was for him. He reasoned a mural of Marlen could help her family in a similar way, as well as the rest of the City of Chicago. Coronado was right. “The stories that I’ve heard, that I keep hearing from strangers, God did His thing. God did His thing, man, and keeps doing it, through this art.”
On June 8, there will be a special memorial service open to the public at the location of the mural, from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on West 16th Street and South Newberry Avenue in Chicago, Illinois.
Elijah Horton, Chicago-based freelance writer