It’s called the Liberation Wall.
Kyle Holbrook started the mural in 2017 as a chronicle of Black history. He will complete it by Wednesday, three years later, now that he has added George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor, recent victims of police brutality and racial violence.
It’s the largest mural in Pittsburgh, says Holbrook, who notes that the building which features it, the Community Empowerment Association on Kelly St. in Homewood, has lots more wall space in the back and along the sides. There’s lots more to chronicle, he adds.
The mural is part of the MLK Community Mural Project, founded by Holbrook to help kids get involved with community work through public art over the summer. Since its start in 2002, murals through the MLK Project have been painted in 27 states and 43 countries. As of last year, around 45,000 youth have participated.
More kids — 100 of them from Homewood — will get involved this summer in a patented curriculum that goes through the steps of creating a mural and helps them build a portfolio.
The Liberation Wall mural, he says, “is a partnership with Rashad Byrdsong, who is the executive director of the Community Empowerment Association. He’s also a mentor for me and an ex-Black Panther who is a real, real leader in the community.”
The section on the right of the mural, pictured above, was the first he completed.
On the left section of the mural, he points out W.E.B. Du Bois and Booker T. Washington. “Both of them are half white like me but African American.” Racism nearly ruined his life in high school but art kept him going. He took art classes and kept with them and “here I am,” he says.
This mural is one of many he’s done locally. People in the community stop by to check it out, ask questions and suggest ideas, which is what makes it a community mural, says the artist. “People have said, Hey, what about this name or what about that name — so many names, you know, we couldn’t paint.
“It’s the largest mural in Pittsburgh but there’s still not enough space for all the names that there could be.” He turns to say goodbye to two women who stopped to see the work and take his photo. They love the mural and thank him. “Certainly, thank you for stopping by!” Holbrook says.
He returns to his work, pointing to a lynching scene. “You know it was really quite an event. People would come out and bring food.
“There’s Billie Holiday, a singer who has broken barriers,” he gestures, “and Jesse Owens who won (the Olympics) and in Germany in front of Hitler. It was symbolic to the whole world.
“There’s Nipsey Hussle in the back because he’s an example of black entrepreneurship and also talking about stuff on gun violence. Now I got 42 friends that have been murdered. Most people I grew up with — most of my friends — were murdered from gun violence.
He continues, motioning to the latest section. “So this is the stuff that’s going on now in the front.”
George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor.
While this wall will be completed within days, Holbrook doesn’t want to end on a violent note. “We want to add images of solutions, solutions of systemic racism,” he says. “We’re already using this as a teaching tool but we want to do other imagery that will talk about the future of African Americans and solutions to systemic racism.”