David Ross: Gutta Dave Says Art Is the Answer

By Asia Nail
The Truth Reporter

It’s been at least five or six years since a youth survey has been done in Toledo. Last year local artist David Ross, along with Rev. Robert Culp of First Church of God, Lucas County Children Services and Pathways Brothers United, took the initiative to ask the underserved youth directly what they want. The results were astonishing.

The survey asked 184 youth in the area whom they trust most for guidance in achieving their goals. A majority overwhelmingly responded they only trust their parents and peers.

“Yeah, we learned that only about 18 percent of the youth surveyed trust adults being paid to teach them. That’s a huge nugget of knowledge,” explains Ross. “The youth survey made it clear that our kids are not willing to trust mentors that don’t authentically know how to meet them where they are in life.”

David Ross, affectionately known as Gutta Dave to much of the inner-city youth, is a consistent civic advocate for youth engagement and creativity arts.

Born and bred in Toledo, he developed a passion for leadership at a young age. “I went to Bowsher High School and learned the importance of making collaborative progress in communities from my participation with The Young Artist at Work (YAAW) —an Arts commission program,” says Ross.

In 2010, along with community artist/singer Tracy Haynes, they used their knowledge as artists and structured a collaborative charity foundation called Dunkin 4 Donations that provides Christmas for less fortunate families in Northwest Ohio.

“Working with YAAW taught me how to re-create many different structures of leadership through the use of art and mentorship,” says Ross. “The only way to put our skills to good use is to directly ask youth what they need from us and consistently show up for them.”

Since 1994, Young Artists at Work (YAAW) has offered paid summer apprenticeships to area teens to learn creative skills and job skills alike to connect to community through the creation of public art and salable works. Each year more than 40 teens from diverse neighborhoods and communities in and around Toledo come together to find a completely unique summer employment opportunity and access to an experience designed to make an impact for a lifetime.

Ross went on to master his skills in videography, photography and production. “That’s how most people remember me in Toledo and then I just decided to change my path,” he shares.

He brought many anti-violence collaborative efforts such as H.E.A.L Hoods everywhere achieving love and bringing together organizations to combat violence within the community. He also collaborated with artist Dean Davis on community murals to combat violence and address the rise in suicides within the black community.

Ross now serves as a community visual artist and on the staff of The Toledo Art Commissions Creative Placemaking team. “For the past four years I’ve been connecting Visual art to social issues involving our youth against crime,” says Ross. “I always have an emphasis on art and mental health awareness, exposing kids to our very own local jazz legends like Art Tatum and Jon Hendricks to inspire them to return back to our rich origins of community and culture.”

In the summer of 2020 David Ross painted the mural, titled “Take a Breath,” on former Mugshots Bar at the corner of Summit and Lagrange amid Black Lives Matter protests following the death of George Floyd under the knee of former Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin.  Although many in the community voiced bias, even prejudice, Ross says, “The mural wasn’t to praise George Floyd the man, it was a representation of what happens to black men. With the magnitude of what happened it was to preserve the moment.”

Now Ross teaches kids how to use what they have to create by showing them how to use their phones for videography and creative projects. He also spent several years as a boxing coach at Soul City Boxing.

“These kids need to learn the importance of the art of protecting themselves physically without guns,” says Ross. “Many of the murals we do create a lot of conversations around these social justice topics.”

Ross is one of the co-chairs of the Toledo Racial Equity and Inclusion Council (TREIC). Within the group there are approximately nine different committees, he co-chairs the social justice committee.

“Next we need to survey the adults and get the adults the education they need to help their children succeed,” Ross says. “Coaches and mentors are straining themselves to make a difference in kids’ lives that have zero trust for their guidance. Let’s fix this.”

The at risk youth in Toledo are willing to die for each other. Due to a rise in gang violence and street-ties, the youth survey validated more trust for peers and even parents came second.

“Art is the answer,” explains Ross. “Art enhances our quality of life. Just creating murals can shift the consciousness of a neighborhood. My counselor in school told me to draw how I felt and it stuck with me. I practice and preach that art is the best medicine for trauma.”

Our kids in Toledo are going through physiological warfare when they lose friends to gun violence. Ross  says, “We are teaching youth coping skills for their trauma and triggers therapeutically with art.”

Many adults don’t understand that children experience PTSD the same as an adult with less abilities to cope.

With serious cycles of trauma and homelessness here in Toledo with our youth, Ross and his accompanying organizations are making positive headway.

“Before a poor kid is exposed to a positive interaction, they have usually experienced 10 or more traumatic or negative interactions first,” says Ross. “We trust our processes. Now they will be based on real feedback directly from our youth. I know the seeds we plant into them may not grow today or tomorrow but over time our work makes a difference.”

Follow David Ross and his civic leadership within the Frederick Douglass Center Board of Directors, Engage Toledo as an Ambassador, The Police-Community Relations Committee, and his work as Co-Chair of the Stop the Violence Committee.

When asked what three things can anyone do to succeed in his opinion he says: “First we all deserve to be heard and express ourselves. Second, If you don’t know your ‘why’ you’ll never be successful. Your ‘why’ is your mission. Last but not least, the real definition of success is —your working pursuit towards a worthy idea. Find and work with people who have missions that align with your ‘why’.”