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Chicago artists Barrett Keithley, Missy Perkins, Ahmad Lee and Dwight White created this mural at Chicago and Lockwood avenues in Austin. It spotlights prominent Black figures.
Chicago artists Barrett Keithley, Missy Perkins, Ahmad Lee and Dwight White created this mural at Chicago and Lockwood avenues in Austin. It spotlights prominent Black figures.
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New mural in Austin aims to give the neighborhood some people to look up to

It was just a wall ‘on the side of a rundown store until we had a chance to actually throw some historical figures on there, some superheroes,’ one of the artists says, ‘showing the youth that you can be whatever you want to.’

Poet Maya Angelou said, “We can only know where we’re going if we know where we’ve been.”

Four Chicago artists say they hope to inspire kids to reach for and achieve their dreams with a new mural in Austin that features Angelou and other Black figures.

Barrett Keithley, Missy Perkins, Ahmad Lee and Dwight White included seven figures in the mural at Chicago and Lockwood avenues: Angelou, Malcolm X, Angela Davis, Harriet Tubman, the fictional superhero Storm and a Black woman and girl not based on any particular person.

Dwight White, one of four artists behind a new Austin mural.
Dwight White, one of four artists behind a new Austin mural.
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White painted the portrait of Malcolm X, having first heard of him as a kid when Muhammad Ali spoke of him.

“It was definitely cool for me to have the opportunity to paint Malcolm X and paint him in color,” says Dwight, 27. “I think traditionally most of the pictures I see of him are in black-and-white.”

Lee, 34, studied Malcolm X and has a sister in the Nation of Islam that the civil rights activist helped lead in the 1960s, during the height of the civil rights movement.

Lee says that, as a Black American, he feels connected to all the imagery of Black Americans in the mural.

Barrett Keithley, one of the founders of Paint The City, did the initial sketch for the Austin mural.
Barrett Keithley, one of the founders of Paint The City, did the initial sketch for the Austin mural.
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Keithley, 33, who sketched the initial design for the mural, previously lived in Austin and has family and friends in the largely Black West Side neighborhood.

Keithley says working on the mural felt like he was paying homage to his ancestors and all Black Chicagoans. Growing up, he says, he didn’t see many Black people doing this type of art. He says he hopes it can inspire kids to reach for their own dreams.

Vanessa Stokes, a key figure behind the project, brought in Paint The City, an organization that works “for the betterment of Black lives” and supports minority artists and businesses.

Last fall, Keithley and Perkins, two of the founders of Paint The City, asked Lee and White to join them in creating the mural, which, after a pause because of construction in the area, was finished in May.

Missy Perkins, a co-founder of Paint The City and one of the artists involved in the Austin mural.
Missy Perkins, a co-founder of Paint The City and one of the artists involved in the Austin mural.
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Perkins, 43, says she especially enjoyed seeing kids come by and see the mural and take photos.

“You have to see yourself in places,” Lee says. “It kind of gives you hope.

“That wall was just a beat-up wall on the side of a rundown store until we had a chance to actually throw some historical figures on there, some superheroes,” Lee says. “Just showing the youth that you can be whatever you want to.

“If you see it, you can achieve it.”

“If you see it, you can achieve it,” says Ahmad Lee, one of the artists who collaborated on the Austin mural.
“If you see it, you can achieve it,” says Ahmad Lee, one of the artists who collaborated on the Austin mural.
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Click on the map below for a selection of Chicago-area murals

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