MLK Day Mural with New Arrivals

Yesterday morning was cold. The morning was crisp, with frost on car windows and crunchy grass underfoot. Cold days with outdoor agendas are always a gamble; attendance can fluctuate, and when a significant number of prospective attendees are newly arrived refugees coming from hot weather climates, the numbers could really go any which way on a 30 degree January morning.

Though yesterday certainly started out chilly, it warmed up with the sun and hearty excitement of the large group that gathered to decorate a blank wall on the Duke Campus Free Expression Bridge. Refugees, staff members, and community volunteers came together for a few hours with stencils, paint, brushes, and big ideas to wash the walls with welcoming messages.

“Bakeni Nywabale Khuta Bula”
This phrase means “Visitors, you are most welcome” in the Lugishu language, and was spray painted  by a man from Uganda on the mural next to the face of Dr. King.

It’s something very special to see community come together to make one unified message; to paint words and images on a wall in a shining contradiction to varying messages of exclusion and anti-refugee sentiment.

Many newly arrived refugees in attendance knew who Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was and were excited to paint images in his honor. They were familiar with the Civil Rights movement, with the values of equality, justice, and community that the Dr. stood for, and were so happy to show their support.

This man pictured to the right is from Sudan, and has been living in the US for 3 years. An excellent artist, he free-handed a portrait of Dr. King next to the phrase “I have a dream.” When we didn’t have small enough brushes for detail work, he turned a paint stir-stick and some paper towels into a makeshift brush.