Haloed activists grace wall of People’s Perk

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Greensboro Mural Project artist Terri Jones works on the People's Perk's new mural, "Wonderful Women and Fabulous Femmes." (photo by Lauren Barber)

Alongside three other social justice luminaries, a golden-haloed Bree Newsome smiles knowingly from the new mural in the People’s Perk, a coffeeshop in Greensboro’s College Hill neighborhood. Newsome, a Charlotte-born filmmaker and activist is best known for removing the Confederate flag from the South Carolina State House grounds.

The impetus for the mural came earlier this year, when café owner Karen Archia reached out to Alyzza May, co-founder of the Greensboro Mural Project, about spurring a community-driven project for Women’s History Month.

“I wanted [the mural] to focus on a variety of women, including trans women,” Archia said. “I like celebrating the diversity of humanity, recognizing that every person should be treated with dignity and respect. I think people deserve that, especially if their experience is different or if they inhabit a different identity that we need to work towards accepting. Not just tolerance — acceptance.”

The piece, “Wonderful Women and Fabulous Femmes” by Terri Jones and Gloria Williams, venerates significant women and femmes of color like Miss Major Griffin-Gracey, an elder transgender woman activist and community organizer who took part in the 1969 Stonewall uprising.

“All four of the people featured are black women and femmes who live in the South, [and] all of the people included are women or femmes of color whether they be First Nation, Palestinian or black,” May said.

The silhouette figures of Juliana Huxtable, Leila Khaled, Sister Rosetta Tharp, Buffy St. Marie, Cynthia Brown, Michelle Howard, Dorothy Brown and Greensboro’s Joyce Johnson also dignify the wall.

“If you look at mainstream historical accounts, often women of color are left out,” Archia said. “It’s an important goal for me as a woman of color to help honor and reveal those stories.”

By Newsome’s side is another activist, Jessie Barber, whose cause is police brutality. When she was served papers for a defamation suit after a sheriff’s deputy killed her son, Gilbert, in 2001, she set fire to them in front of the Greensboro Police Department headquarters, according to May.

Attend the mural unveiling on July 9 from 1 to 3 p.m. at the People’s Perk, 551 S. Mendenhall St. (GSO).

As the project manifested, May said the planning process opened their eyes to several previously overlooked activists and history-makers. In this way, the mural serves as a site for public learning, truth-telling and cultural preservation, too.

“It’s only in the last year that I’ve learned more about Ms. Major and how committed she’s been to [LBGTQ and anti-incarceration] movement work throughout her life,” May continued. “Her defiance is incredible.”

Though this is the Greensboro Mural Project’s first mural within a private business, May said it was “a no-brainer”; for two years, the Mural Project has been holding its meetings at the People’s Perk.

“We knew what Karen is committed to, and in a lot of ways we saw alignment in belief systems,” May said. “I don’t think it brought up any of the concerns that might otherwise have come up when working with a private business.”

Still, the mural’s placement in a quasi-private space marks a divergence from the project’s defining mission, though May added that the group has also created art inside three elementary schools.

In February, the Perk invited the public to nominate subjects for the mural during an open-mic Kickstarter event. Archia then encouraged patrons to vote among of the most-nominated finalists over the following weeks.

“Wonderful Women and Fabulous Femmes” also marks the first time the Greensboro Mural Project slotted two lead artists.

Williams rendered the likenesses of Barber and Micky Bradford, a black transgender femme best known for “voguing” in front of then-Gov. Pat McCrory’s residence while protesting HB 2 last year. She works with Southerners on New Ground and the Trans Law Center on HIV/AIDS prevention and supporting LGBTQ homeless youth. Jones instilled nobility and vitality in Newsome and Major’s visages.

“It’s cool to have that intergenerational piece also woven in,” May said, referencing the 50-year gap between Bradford and Miss Major, who is in her seventies.

Intern Vera Weinfield also contributed to the lower half of the mural.

“She did a wonderful job bringing out the vibrancy of the colors so it’s not something people look at in just one spot,” Williams said.

Williams commended Jones’ creative solution for incorporating permanent wall fixtures into knobs on a turntable, eliciting a three-dimensional effect.

“I’m really happy with all the elements,” Archia said. “It’s balanced, colorful and I like the painterly details like Michelle Howard’s military badge and phrases from [the regional and local legends]. I love coming in and looking at it every day.”