“Stop the Violence” will see a second life after being destroyed last summer.
Three decades ago, the names of 46 Philadelphians who lost their lives to gun violence were painted on the side of a Point Breeze rowhome.
Although the colors gradually faded over the years, the memories evoked through the mural, Stop the Violence, have not been forgotten.
In efforts to revive the public art and the legacies it cradles, Mural Arts Philadelphia has recently partnered with a slew of local legislators and organizations to replace and re-envision the memorialized gem nestled at 20th and Fernon streets, where it was dismantled amidst development last summer.
Last Thursday, the new design by artist and Philadelphia native Felix St. Fort was officially unveiled during a ceremony at the site hosted by the revamping team, including Councilman Kenyatta Johnson, executive director of Mural Arts Philadelphia Jane Golden, executive director of the Make The World Better Foundation Claire Laver, state Sen. Anthony Williams, state Rep. Maria Donatucci and Al Custis and Tracey Anderson of the Ralph Brooks Community Basketball League.
“For 30 years, this mural stood here as a beacon and as an icon,” Golden said. “It had become iconic, looking over the neighborhood in times of struggle and in times of joy.”
In the late 1980s, Golden worked on the original mural with Philadelphia Anti-Graffiti Network after then-mayor Wilson Goode commissioned a citywide project of no-violence murals — artwork that inspired the former politician while in Boston.
The 20th and Fernon site was selected as the first canvas of the series. The names of close to 50 locals whose lives were seized by violence would bestow spirit on the prosaic concrete wall for the next three decades.
Johnson, a Point Breeze native, remembers the painting of the 1989 mural as well as some of the slain individuals that it honored.
“This mural symbolized those individuals in South Philadelphia who not only lost their lives to gun violence, senseless gun violence, but more importantly, individuals who were staples in our community,” he said. “Individuals who were family members here in our community.”
Controversy sparked in summer 2018 when the original mural was destroyed during a construction project — not an uncommon occurrence in the neighborhood.
But, during the ceremony, Johnson commemorated the building’s developer, Steven Brown of Urban Living, for collaborating with the Ralph Brooks Community Basketball League and the Make The World Better Foundation to refurbish the mural.
“As private landowners, they did not have to honor the requests of the community to put this mural back up,” Johnson said. “But the developer empathized with the community…recognizing that this mural is special in the place and the hearts of the people who live in Point Breeze. So to me, this isn’t political.”
The site stands across from the Ralph Brooks Park, which was the first renovation project of Make The World Better — a nonprofit founded by former Eagles player Connor Barwin that strives to revitalize the city’s playgrounds and parks.
Throughout 2015, the foundation renovated the space, including installing rain gardens, subsurface green stormwater infrastructure, pedestrian access points and a new basketball court.
Continuing their work in Point Breeze, Make The World Better also played a role in the resurrection of Stop the Violence. Alongside the Ralph Brooks Community Basketball League, MTWB plans to advocate for the lot beneath the mural to be designated for community use.
“To the families of all of the victims, both on the wall and around our whole city, we see you,” said Laver, executive director of MTWB. “We stand with you, and we’re going to continue to work hard to make sure this list doesn’t continue to grow.”
While the anticipated painting will include similar color schemes as its predecessor, the new version, which will be dedicated in the spring, will also salute the same 46 souls who were honored in the late 1980s.
On Martin Luther King Day on Jan. 21, volunteers painted portions of the mural at the Dixon House, 1920 S. 20th St., in Point Breeze as part of the MLK Day of Service.
In the eyes of St. Fort, the artist, who has worked with Mural Arts Philadelphia for more than a decade, this restored piece of art and memory aspires to cultivate peace in South Philadelphia.
“I tried to be very respectful of what was there,” St. Fort said. “And I’m hoping that the new design is something that everybody can appreciate and that it stands as a testament that there were people here that existed, that lived and their lives were cut short unnecessarily and I take that with me personally right here, and I’m going to do my best job to make sure that their legacies live on.”
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