28 Phoenix Murals Honor Black Pioneers For Black History Month

Published: Monday, February 1, 2021 - 11:46am
Updated: Monday, March 8, 2021 - 1:05pm
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MARK BRODIE: The first day of Black History Month is also the kickoff of a project in Phoenix meant to educate residents about some of the pioneers of the Black community. Twenty-one artists will be painting 28 murals, one to represent each day of the month. And people are being encouraged to see all of them and learn about the subjects. Community activist Gizette Knight is the organizer of this project. She was also behind the effort to paint a Black Lives Matter mural downtown last year — the city ultimately rejected that request. Knight says that project turned into the Black History Month Mural Project.

GIZETTE KNIGHT: So basically with the mural project is we're going to paint 28 murals in one week, and attached to that is a mural hunt. So we are encouraging people to go and basically look at these murals because they're going to be educational. We didn't want to feature a lot of mainstream figures, and then we wanted to give recognition to those figures that paved the way that doesn't necessarily get the notoriety or the recognition that they deserve.

BRODIE: So how did you go about picking the folks who will be depicted in these murals?

KNIGHT: So basically what I did is, this was, again, all my projects community-based. So I reached out to local artists and of course, they had to show their portfolio. So once I saw their portfolio and it aligned with what we were doing, they had to have some type of experience with painting murals and they had to specifically have experienced painting portraits. One of the people that we're painting is Billie Holiday. You know, Billie is known for having pictures depicted with her with a flower in her hair and, you know, her head slightly lifted by the microphone. So we wanted to capture that. We needed an artist that could reflect that.

BRODIE: So you mentioned Billie Holiday. Who are some of the other folks that you're going to be painting?

KNIGHT: Oh, wow. So Billie Holiday, John Coltrane, George Washington Carver, Alex Haley — I don't want to give all of it away, but it's going to be, it's going to be a lot. But, and hopefully we could have one dedicated to, to one of our pioneers down here — Calvin Goode. So that's what we're working on as well.

BRODIE: So where are these going to be? I mean, are they mostly going to be on, on buildings in downtown or are they going to be spread more throughout the city?

KNIGHT: So we have a perimeter set up. So they're going to be within 15th Street and Buckeye to 15th Ave and Indian School. But predominantly, majority of them are going to be downtown, mostly in the Roosevelt Row and historic Roosevelt district.

BRODIE: Now, obviously, there is a symbolism in having 28 murals representing each day of Black History Month. What do you hope that Phoenicians will learn from seeing these?

KNIGHT: Well, it's an educational piece. One of the things I, I saw when I moved to Arizona is the teaching of Black history isn't as — it's not thorough enough, in my opinion, because when you look at Black History Month down here, it's always Martin Luther King or Rosa Parks, John Lewis. Yes, these people are phenomenal icons in the Black community. But what about George Washington Carver? Lewis Latimer? Madam C.J. Walker? These are people that also paved the way and, you know, Benjamin Banneker, Booker T. Washington — these are people that don't necessarily get that much recognition like they should. And these are the people that also paved the way and, you know, not just in America, but in the world. You know, their inventions and what they contributed to society is the reason why we're able to live the way we are today more comfortably.

BRODIE: And in terms of the logistics, I mean, 28 murals in, in one week. These are, in some cases, fairly large projects. I know you have multiple artists who are going to be painting them, but it sounds like a fairly ambitious thing to paint a mural even, you know, within the span of a few days.

KNIGHT: It is ambitious, but this is what I wanted to — how I want to pay homage to my ancestors. You know, because the Black culture is complex. It's not just Martin Luther King. It's not just Malcolm X. It's more to us than that. You know, how many people have heard of the Harlem Renaissance? You know, let's, let's talk about that. So these are things that I wanted to bring to the forefront, because when we shout out, you know, Black Lives Matter, people always associate it to police brutality. You know, our lives matter. But when you look at Black history in a whole, Black people contributed so much to society. And this is just what I want to show is I want to educate people on the complexities of Black history and show all the things that we contributed.

BRODIE: Now, obviously, Black History Month is important every year, you know, for education and cultural awareness and, you know, all of the things, the events and educational pieces that happen. I'm wondering if, in your mind, given the last, you know, 11, 12 months that we've had, does 2021 Black History Month take on maybe a slightly different or more important meaning?

KNIGHT: It does, because of the stuff that happened in 2020. I feel like our issues were overlooked and they wasn't brought to the forefront. I personally feel like when it comes to Black culture, you know, people love Black culture, but when it comes to Black issues, they don't want to celebrate it. And for me, when I heard of Black Lives Matter, it was more than just an association with police brutality. It was a whole, you know, how does my life matter? And it's not, you know, just pertaining to the criminal justice system. And I just wanted to show that, you know, Black people contributed a lot to society. And for me, I feel like our history, our culture is often overlooked.

BRODIE: All right, Gizette, thanks for your time. I appreciate it. Good luck with the project.

KNIGHT: Thank you so much, Mark. And you have an awesome day. Be safe out there.

BRODIE: Gizette Knight is a community activist in Phoenix and organizer of the Black History Month Mural Project.

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