PHOENIX — On busy street corners all around downtown Phoenix, artists like Maria Madrid Reed are putting the finishing touches on a tribute celebrating the rich history of Black achievement.
“So, we have Madam CJ Walker — she’s the most known out of the three. She created a huge empire,” said Maria, pointing to her mural near 8th and Washington streets.
Reed is one of 22 artists creating 28 murals for Black History Month.
Her murals focus on three entrepreneurs: Madam C.J. Walker, Mary Ellen Pleasant, and O.W. Gurley.
Madam CJ Walker was America's first female millionaire. She developed a line of cosmetics and hair care products for Black women.
On Walker’s left in the mural is Mary Ellen Pleasant, known as the “one-woman social agency.” On Walker's right is O.W. Gurley, the founder of Black Wall Street.
“It’s the social aspect, the community aspect and there’s following your dreams which is also very powerful,” said Maria about the idea behind her creation.
The project looks to bring these lesser-known heroes out of the shadows by creating a renewed dialogue surrounding their stories.
“It’s not just about looking at the art, it’s about knowing who these people were,” said Gizette Knight.
Gizette is the CEO of the nonprofit Shining Light Foundation, which is leading the effort. They secured a donation from Microsoft that has allowed them to not only bring the project to life in our state but others as well.
“I think it’s important for the young people to see these figures because it creates value in them, it empowers them. I could be more than just my circumstance,” said Gizette.
From musicians like Billie Holiday and Miles Davis, to groundbreaking Olympians like Thomas Smith and socials activists like Whitney Young Jr., a man who spent his life fighting to end employment discrimination.
“I think representation matters, especially here in downtown,” said one passerby. “It’s important to educate so that future generations have this information.”
In fact, not only is there a map (shown below) to guide you to each one, but eventually a QR code will help you learn the details of what each individual has done. It’s a reminder to all that take them in, these aren’t just faces and figures of Black history but American history.