Art Right on Time
Heading to the New Jersey Balloon Festival, we planned to take a short detour & check out the new Ed Bradley Mural, which was recently unveiled in Philly. I saw a piece about it on the news and knew it had to be added to the #BlackList of things I must do. Ed Bradley made me think about DMV anchor/icon, Jim Vance wore his earring proudly, as he commanded the DMV news with his amazingly unapologetic spirit until his untimely death, a year ago, this month. I digress abou Jim Vance, because he, too, had Pennsylvanian roots and unapologetically Black ways, in an industry that often inaccurately narrates the stories of people who look like them. Vance’s obituary tells us, “After Bradley’s death in 2006, Mr. Vance began to wear a gold hoop earring, as Bradley had done.” Vance, indeed was the next Ed Bradley to me. Both of these Black men touched & inspired countless lives — and they are immortal warriors. I still watch 60 minutes because of the spirit of Ed Bradley — NBC news gets similar loyalty.
City of Mural Love
We heard that Philly was the “mural capital”, but we only wanted to see ONE- Ed Bradley. My ride or die, Will, and I complained about traffic from DC to Philly. Delays at the ruthlessly stooopid Wendy’s circle. Slow on NY Ave. Backed up on Route 50. Construction and slow drivers on 301. We rode through the ‘hoods of Philly -and arrived safely to Mr. Bradley.
I jumped out of the car and smiled at him. I noticed the smaller medallions of faces surrounding him, affixed to the fence that surrounds the land. Some images were familiar faces that are present and gone (Michelle; Gil; Trayvon; Mumia; Nat; Martin) and some appeared to be local matriarchs, whom I figured were at home in this community.
I was taking it all in — with trusty i-Phone — as Will, the self-taught photographer & self-published editor of the International Photography Award-winning SankShuned Photography Art Book — was doing the heightened image captures he’s prone to do with his Canon gear. I felt as if we were on sacred ground, so I was compelled to pick up pieces of trash that littered the verdant grass (yes, the ‘hood can have verdant spaces, too).
I noticed a woman walking in our direction. A slim, bright blue-lipsticked and glass-framed sister. We said hello. We introduced ourselves as admirers of the man in the mural, detouring from a Jersey trip, coming from DC, just to see it. She came from around the corner and was planning to pick up the pieces of trash that finds its way into the lot (blown or strewn). I told her we already took care of it. She beamed. She still couldn’t believe we came from DC to see her labor of love. And that blue she wore was royal blue —fit for a queen of her community.
Aminata opened up and told us an amazing story, which we didn’t anticipate, but welcomed. A story we might have missed had we not been delayed by traffic (see, delays can have benefits). We were right on time.
It was her activism that made the mural happen. Aminata Sandra Calhoun, a local artist, returned to the family neighborhood, to reclaim her mother’s house. Her mom made her promise to never let this home be sold to white people. No doubt, she didn’t want this legacy to be stripped away to the highest bidder. They worked hard for this land and her mother wanted to protect it as part of family history & Black history. Those who understand the land injustice that has plagued (and continues to plague) Black people in America, understand this is about legacy and self-preservation, not racism or the restrictive covenants that kept Black families from access to equitable wealth-building. Read The Color of Law, if you’re uncertain about America’s land theft & segregation. Aminata also told us her parents bought the home from its previous residents, Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc.. It is part of her family, Black America and America history. Her mom was teaching her children how history has been stolen and/or erased in our past. Aminata understood that wouldn’t happen on her watch.
Aminata left her studio/home, in a wealthier part of Philly, and saved what was at risk of being sold for a pittance of its’ worth (sidebar: investor-developer-government-folk continue to trick Black people out of their land assets). Aminata wasn’t having it.
As she settled back into her childhood home, Aminata saw a decrepit building sitting on the corner of her community. Her activism kicked in and she successfully got her council member to get the safety hazard and community eyesore to have it removed.
The newly created corner lot had a huge blank wall on the side of the now, semi-detached rowhouse. Aminata — and the artist spirit in her — saw a canvas that needed something. She reached out to her friend at Mural Arts, Philadelphia, and sought her collaboration in making that canvas something special. Aminata told her friend that she didn’t want Donald Duck, or a sports figure. After some time, her friend came back and suggested — with cliff-hanging flair — Ed Bradley. Aminata said her spirit was overjoyed. She recalled how watching Ed Bradley was a family affair. As she spoke, I smiled, because that was my family story, too. 60 Minutes was a staple at our house too. I was intrigued & inspired by Ed Bradley. He had a role in my embrace of communications as a major (albeit, disjointed and indirectly followed by me — another story).
Aminata and Mural Arts got to work. And, on June 16, 2018, the community of West Philadelphia got another work of art and homage to a global icon with local roots.
Finished but the Work Continues
Aminata’s time, talent, treasure and testimony is embedded at 949 Belmont Ave., which she wants to see named, “The Ed Bradley Mural Heritage GreenSpace.” She’s also the creator of the medallions that line this special place. Aminata wants the Ed Bradley mural, and the land Ed overlooks, to inspire self-pride, which she hopes will inspire community pride.
She got what she wanted — bur, she knows the work isn’t over. Yes, there are some elders who continue to sweep the sidewalk, but there’s a need for people of the community (and those who pass through) to not litter in the first place. Community building is never finished work, when it’s done right. Yet, every bit of inspiration we can build in community can catalyze others to respect it and build more inspiration. We all need more Aminata’s, as much as we need more Ed Bradley’s to inspire us, preserve our histories and tell our stories. That will continue to move us to make a difference for ourselves and, by extension, for others.
Images by William Perrigen for Sitazen Blake Photography and Edward Jones