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Artists hope Arizona's Black History Mural Project 'educates, inspires, uplifts'

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One of 'Just' Dixon’s murals depicts Black Olympic medalists Alice Coachman, Simone Biles and Tommie Smith. The mural took six days to complete. - Hope O’Brien/Cronkite News

PHOENIX – The City Council in 2020 denied a request to paint a “Black Lives Matter” mural on a downtown street. That rejection was the impetus for the Black History Mural Project, which the Shining Light Foundation started last year to educate and empower Arizonans.

This year, the group commissioned 28 murals, representing the days of Black History Month. Each features prominent or impactful Black figures with a unique theme.

Gizette Knight is president and CEO of the foundation and founder of the 2022 Black History Mural Project.

“My overall goal for this project has always been to empower my people, but also to educate all people, for Black history is American history,” Knight said Feb. 1 at the unveiling of a mural at Footprint Center, home of the NBA Suns and Mercury.

Cronkite News spoke to four of the muralists commissioned for the project, which is rolling out across downtown.

Giovannie ‘Just’ Dixon

Location: Northwestern corner of Second and Lincoln streets

When he began painting four years ago Dixon left Arizona to seek communities of artists who are like him.

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“There needs to be more Black representation, whether it’s on the walls or actually painting the walls,” Dixon said.

Dixon was commissioned to complete three of the 28 murals, a workload he says he was willing to take on in hopes that his work and the project can educate the public, increase representation from Black street artists in Arizona and bring forth more people of color to create art.

David Morgan

Location: Western side of Mrs. White’s Golden Rule Cafe at Eighth and Jefferson streets

As the son of a former art teacher, Morgan spent most of his childhood creating art.

He joined the project at the request of the foundation with aspirations to create something Shining Light and the community could be proud of. Although Morgan has created murals for seven years, this project became an inspiration as well as a history lesson for him.

“I felt like I learned more about the other side of America,” Morgan said. “The side that they’re not going to show you on TV, and they’re not going to show you on the computer.”

Lucretia Torva and Jennifer White

Location: Western side of Footprint Center at First and Jefferson streets

Torva and White collaborated to bring to life a mural of 10 Black figures prominent in basketball.

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Torva, who saw Facebook posts looking for muralists to join the project, didn’t see herself as a protester or activist before working on the mural. For her, participating in the process was an important way to support the cause and equality for everyone.

“This project has changed my view personally that I can actually be an activist with my art,” Torva said.

White, who joined the project in 2021, knew she would be returning for the second year after her initial experience.

“(Painting the mural) was the most important and fulfilling thing I ever did, like I was fulfilling a purpose besides just painting something pretty on a wall,” White said.

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