Graham Kilmer
Protest Day 80

Mural of Black Leaders Unveiled

New mural on 14th and Vliet depicts leaders young and old, alive and dead.

By - Aug 17th, 2020 10:19 am
Mural honoring Black leaders on the building at 1334 W. Vliet St. Photo by Graham Kilmer.

Mural honoring Black leaders on the building at 1334 W. Vliet St. Photo by Graham Kilmer.

On Sunday, a mural was unveiled on a building at 1334 W. Vliet St. honoring Black leaders in Milwaukee, young and old.

The mural is part of a series of protest murals that are popping up around Milwaukee. The group behind them is called Art-I-Culture, LLC. It’s led by Milwaukee County Supervisor Sequanna Taylor and local artist and community organizer Sam Alford

Work on the mural unveiled Sunday has been going on for weeks. A team of local artists, several of whom have worked on previous protest murals for George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, worked until the wee hours of the morning to have the mural finished in time for the unveiling.

It’s called “Give Them Their Flowers Now”. The name, Taylor explained, comes from the tendency to not properly honor people until after they’ve died. “We want the people that live in Milwaukee to know that we love and we appreciate them while they’re still alive,” she said.

The mural is part of a growing list of public art organized by Art-I-Culture. Alford and Taylor said the pieces are becoming part of an “outdoor museum.” They already have plans for several other murals, including one on the same block of Vliet where “Give Them Their Flowers Now” has been installed. 

The mural depicts community activists and leaders Andre Lee Ellis, Venice R. Williams, Angela Lang, the poet Dasha Kelly, the late journalist Eric Von, businesswoman Thelma Sias and elected officials Ald. Milele A. Coggs, State Sen. Lena Taylor and Sup. Taylor. Also on the wall is Destiny Monae a young woman who became a leader of the city’s 2020 racial justice protests.

The mural is on the north side of Vliet Street, at the intersection of Vliet and N. 14th Street. It’s a companion piece to a mural done by the artists and Art-I-Culture that’s literally just around the corner on N. 14th Street. That piece, finished in July, features a number of Milwaukee’s new generation of Black community activists and leaders that have emerged in recent years.

This new mural puts the young leaders in the July mural shoulder to shoulder with the communities “elders” as many referred to them Sunday. “Bridging the gap” between young and old, as Vaun Mayes explained. He said he hopes the murals will inspire young people in Milwaukee to get involved in their community.

Mayes was not the only one to note the significance of this. Ellis, who emcee’d the unveiling Sunday, said “I’m excited about today not only about being on the wall. But just something that brings us together other than a funeral other than a tragedy other than the fact that these young people have been out here protesting and walking in these streets everyday for some 70 days.”

State Rep. Kalan Haywood said, “We have to figure out, how do we harness and gather the energy of the young people, my peers, and marry that with our elders, the wisdom? And that’s what this mural today is.” The mural is a symbol, Haywood said, of the generational struggle against injustice.

Venice Williams admonished the community’s “elders” to “start showing up.” She said it’s important that they support the young people carrying the torch today, and beyond that, to learn from them. “For everyone up here, especially on this side,” she said, gesturing to the “elders” mural “this is not an exclamation point to our life’s journey, this is a charge to continue.”

Williams said being on the mural was “probably the most humbling thing that has ever happened to me in my life.”

“We stand on the shoulders of our elders that paved the way for us to be out here, to march, to be able to vote, to go to schools,” Sup. Taylor said. The supervisor said she ended up on the wall despite her protests against it. Apparently, the artists managed to get a photo from her son they used to create her image. “I’m honored and humbled” she said about the result. 

Monae, a young leader of the protests in Milwaukee this year, was homeless for a short while before she started marching. She lost her job as a support teacher at the start of the pandemic. She credits God for getting her on a path to her activism, which crystallized Sunday with her mural image being unveiled.

More than 100 people showed up for the unveiling. They stood in the sun or sat under a tent and listened to some of the people who were painted talk about the gravity of the piece. For all on the mural, it seemed to be a source of great pride and honor to be held in such high esteem.

Sen. Taylor, holding back tears, pointed to the mural behind her and said, “I’m just a girl from 15th and Capitol by way of 29th and North Avenue. I’m the girl that barely made it out of Rufus King High School. I’m her. And this wall represents hope.” Elle Halo, who is on the mural of young activists and leaders, echoed Taylor’s sentiment, saying “that’s like a once in a lifetime thing for a girl like myself from 46th and Burleigh.”

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More about the 2020 Racial Justice Protests

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