PHOENIX – Leaders who fought for equity and justice. Entertainers who shifted the sound of music. Inventors who brought water toys and traffic lights to America.
Arizona artists have painted the sweep of Black history at 28 businesses and organizations in downtown and central Phoenix. Malcolm X, Aretha Franklin, Angela Davis and Percy Julian are showcased among many African Americans – some iconic, others less celebrated but all with an impact on American life.
The art tribute represents each day of February’s Black History Month, but the project’s organizer, Gizette Knight, looks to the longevity of inclusion.
“A mural needs to happen because our babies need to see it,” said Knight, the chief executive of Reality Dreams LLC. “They need to see themselves out there. They need to see their culture out there.”
Cecil Abitan drove to central Phoenix just so he could experience the paintings.
“These works of art are aesthetically pleasing, but also have a massive message,” he said. “I think it’s something that young people should really know about, as well as old people like myself. There’s no age to have an appreciation for not only art, but history, especially Black history.”
Highlighting Black accomplishments and leadership dates back to 1926, when historian Carter G. Woodson set aside one week in February as Negro History Week, but it has since expanded to all of February. In Arizona and elsewhere, the celebration of Black life in politics, society, education, entertainment and industry has become an annual rite.
The Black achievers art project grew out of Knight’s determination to remain undeterred by rejection.
“Last year, in the summer, I was working with a couple (Phoenix City) council members to bring forth a Black Lives Matter street mural, and unfortunately, the City Council decided to go in another direction.”