From left, artists Kyle Holbrook, Frank Tillman and Ernest Bey pause for a moment of silence in memory of Heaven Budd who was shot steps from their Peace Over Pittsburgh mural in Homewood. Photo by Ann Belser.

The artists who painted the 2007 Peace Over Pittsburgh mural in Homewood rededicated the refreshed version of the work on Oct. 23, just steps from the blood stains on the sidewalk where a young woman had been fatally shot less than a day before.

Kyle Holbrook, the muralist who spearheaded the project, was on a ladder at 2:58 p.m. on Oct. 22 when he heard the gunshots and called 911.

The Allegheny County Medical Examiner identified the victim as 21-year-old Heaven Budd. She was near the stairs to the busway when she was shot. She died at a hospital 34 minutes later.

During the rededication, Holbrook was still rattled. He called for a moment of silence in memory of the victim and later paced as others talked.

The shooting was exactly what the mural was dedicated to preventing when it was unveiled 16 years ago.

“I’m painting on the mural right over there and I hear, I hear a pop. Unfortunately, growing up in Wilkinsburg, half in Homewood, I’m all too familiar with that sound,” said Holbrook, who now lives in Penn Hills. “At the peace mural, right here, a young person lost her life. It was surreal.

“I see this happening all around the city, all around the country, all around the world. What I see is that young people are dying,” said Holbrook, who has spent the last year traveling around the U.S. and 12 countries painting murals, including one that reflects on the Tree of Life tragedy. “If you do the shooting, or your life is taken, you lose both lives.”

The Peace Over Pittsburgh mural was painted in 2007 along North Homewood Avenue under both the Norfolk Southern railroad tracks and the Martin Luther King Jr. East Busway. The mural is on both sides of the street. This section, painted by Ernest Bey, highlights the Egyptian family and their culture. Photo by Ann Belser.

Holbrook and the other original artists who are from Homewood — Ernest Bey and Frank Tillman, a former art teacher at Schenley, Peabody and Westinghouse high schools — spent weeks restoring the mural, which was damaged by work on the beams of the Martin Luther King Jr. East Busway overhead.

The painting was part of the 2007 MLK Community Mural Project that involved 10 artists and 100 young people who were each paid $1,000 to work as assistants. 

“In all that time it was never tagged,” said Bey.

The Peace Over Pittsburgh mural originally had 10 Westinghouse High School students helping as artist assistants. At the time, Holbrook had 100 young people helping 10 artists with 30 murals all around the city and in Wilkinsburg. 

He wanted to involve students again, and after talking to Mayor Ed Gainey and Gainey’s chief of staff Jake Wheatley, Holbrook applied to the POISE Foundation at their behest, but was turned down for a grant this summer that would have employed 100 students again.

Olga George, the mayor’s press secretary, said the funding determinations were up to the Black-led philanthropy POISE Foundation.

“We need to continue programming that provides inspirations, outlets. Kids need something to do. You can’t wait until something happens then go talk about it. You’ve got to be proactive,” Holbrook said.

“The mural itself was always about stopping the violence,” Bey said. “We wanted to put our arms around the community and that way we would really bring in and nurture the family. In my piece, the Egyptian scene, you really see the culture and how they embrace the family.”

Later he said the ability to repaint allowed him to add details and color that had not been part of the original mural.

Muralist Frank Tillman stands near his section of the mural. The faces of Harriet Tubman and Rosa Parks are not quite complete yet. Photo by Ann Belser.

Tillman explained that his section is about the barriers that young Black men face. The ladder to success is broken in his piece, he said, but climbable. The young man starts out acting as a child, symbolized by sucking his thumb, but he grows, has a child of his own and reaches toward the mountaintop where Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman, Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X are looking out.

“Our message is to have peace and unification,” Tillman said.

“We have to get our arms around our young people and art is a good entry to stopping the violence. It’s always a way to speak to other issues that they may have in their lives and art is a way of always kind of making them express themselves,” Bey said.

“There’re not any words that are going to bring this beautiful young woman to life,” Holbrook said, referring to the most recent shooting victim. 

He was unable to finish his work on the mural because the area was taped off by police as part of a crime scene.

Ann Belser is the owner of Print, a newspaper covering Pittsburgh's East End communities. After receiving a master’s degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, she moved to Squirrel Hill and was a staff writer for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for 20 years where she covered local communities, county government, courts and business.