We know D.C. Get our free newsletter to stay in the know.

For a while, it was unclear whether Khadijah Frye would ever be able to read. Now, the 14-year-old’s art work is on display before an audience of thousands at Union Station.

The District has hosted arts events of all genres during this week’s VSA International Festival.  In conjunction with the festival, the VSA—the International Organization on Arts and Disability—and CVS Caremark’s All Kids Can program sponsored the national CREATE! contest. Last fall, kids from 5 to 15 throughout the country competed to take part in an exhibition at Union Station. In the end, 51 students—one from each state and the District—were selected to show in the “State of the Art” display.

Frye, the District’s representative, has overcome some great odds on the path to becoming the thriving student and artist she is today. Her mother, Jacey Hamilton, first noticed that her daughter was slow to speak and had a hard time focusing when she was in daycare. Hamilton took her to Children’s National Medical Center, where she was diagnosed with an undefined learning disability. She attended standard public school and had trouble with the curriculum and making friends.

From a young age, though, Frye’s vocation for art was evident. “She wouldn’t color in coloring books,” said Hamilton. “So I gave her an easel and brought home some printer paper from work. By the time she was five or six she was doing beautiful drawings.”

At the recommendation of a child psychologist, Hamilton placed her daughter in SAIL, the School for Arts in Learning, when she was in fourth grade. The charter school uses a visual approach to learning, even in subjects like science and math, and soon Frye was flourishing. When Frye was in sixth grade, a teacher took notice of her work and approached Hamilton.

“She told me that Khadijah was using techniques that many of her high school students weren’t using,” Hamilton said. “I always thought that Khadijah’s pictures were beautiful, but she’s my own daughter. That’s when I knew she had a special talent.”

Frye produces so much art—much of which is for other people, including classmates who ask her for pictures—that it can be hard for her mother to keep track of all of her daughter’s work. Frye created her exhibit drawing, “Tree of Knowlege,” before she was aware of the contest, and Hamilton hadn’t seen the picture until it was chosen.

“I see it as two forms around the heart,” Frye said of the inspiration behind “Tree of Knowledge.” “I wanted to convey expressions of the heart. That’s how I see it. Other people can see what they want to, I just want them to see something.”

Frye’s days at SAIL are nearing an end, and she looks forward to attending Duke Ellington High School of the Arts next year. Over the summer, she’ll keep busy creating a Darfur T-shirt.