PHOENIX — On busy street corners all around downtown Phoenix, artists like Maria Madrid Reed are putting their finishing touches on tributes celebrating the rich history of Black achievement in America.
Reed is one of 22 artists creating 28 murals across the city for Black History Month. Her mural focus on three Black entrepreneurs: Madam C.J. Walker, Mary Ellen Pleasant, and O.W. Gurley.
Walker was America's first female millionaire. She developed a line of cosmetics and hair care products for Black women. Pleasant was known as the "one-woman social agency." Gurley was a founder of the Greenwood district in Tulsa, Oklahoma — a neighborhood known as a mecca for Black wealth and culture in the early 20th century.
"It's the social aspect, the community aspect and there's following your dreams, which is also very powerful," Reed said about the inspiration for her mural.
The project looks to bring lesser-known Black heroes out of the shadows by creating a renewed dialogue surrounding their stories.
"It's not just about looking at the art; it's about knowing who these people were," said Gizette Knight, the CEO of the Shining Light Foundation.
The Shining Light Foundation is leading the effort to install the murals across Phoenix for Black History Month. The nonprofit secured a donation from Microsoft that has allowed it to not only bring the project to life in Arizona but in other states as well.
"I think it's important for the young people to see these figures because it creates value in them, it empowers them, 'I could be more than just my circumstance,'" Knight said.
The murals feature Black icons from all walks of life: From musicians like Billy Holiday and Miles Davis to groundbreaking Olympians like Tommie Smith and social activists like Whitney Young Jr. — a man who spent his life fighting to end employment discrimination.
"I think representation matters, especially here in downtown," one passerby said. "It's important to educate so that future generations have this information."
In fact, not only is there a map to guide visitors to each mural, but eventually, QR codes will help them learn the details about the subject of each mural. It's a reminder to all that take them in that they aren't just faces and figures of Black history, but American history.
This story was originally published by Cameron Polom on Scripps station KNXV in Phoenix.