Super Hero Mural Project Sparks Hope in West Oakland

Transformation is in the air as the Oakland Super Heroes Mural Project gets underway. This is an ArtEsteem project, sponsored by the Attitudinal Healing Connection (AHC), a community based non-profit whose vision is a world where everyone is whole, safe, valued, educated and loved. There is a core team of staff driving the project, confident that the mural will help revitalize and bring hope to a community plagued by a very long list of social problems.

This list is not just metaphorical. AHC has been working in the Hoover District to survey community members, asking citizens to think about their greatest concerns, as well as strengths, and dreams for this community. AHC intends to make the dream real, as art holds the power to bring to life what the mind can only envision. The method of surveying AHC is using is not the typical approach. Team members have been going door-to-door, diving into the heart and soul of the community and informing people of this project while gaining input. The community has been very receptive to these efforts and people have been more than willing to talk. AHC has also been working to involve progressive stakeholders in the community, helping to gain momentum and build support for the project.

The theme of the project stems from Associate Director of Attitudinal Healing Connection, Amana Harris’ book and ArtEsteem program curriculum, Self as Super Hero. Harris says “The ArtEsteem Self as Super Hero book was inspired by our current need for heroes for our children, youth and communities…and provides a platform for self development, cultural sensibility and an innovative approach to arts integration while exploring our voice and vision for solving our most critical problems in the community and the world.” In the program children are encouraged to reinvent themselves as social justice oriented super heroes who have the ability to solve problems in their own community. Harris’ concept is paired with a saying, “We are the ones we are waiting for, to save ourselves and others”– empowering youth to really invest in themselves, their community and their world.

Students from the McClymonds High School 4th period art class are coming together to do just that, tackling social problems and creating super heroes with powers to bring about real change in their neighborhood. Students are the ones designing the mural – developing concepts, heroes, and the stories behind them. Youth have been putting a tremendous amount of energy and thought into the scene and powers of the super heroes, elements of which will address individual problems within the community.

Students working on the project say their main goal is to unite the community – to unite sets, to unite elders with the youth, and to bring children together to build a better community. Ninth grader Daileesha McDonald said, “It should bring the community together, stop the violence, make the community a better, safer place, and make people think twice before they do stuff. It should change people’s lives.” Fellow ninth grader Quilliecha Robinson said “I hope it’ll give people the message that they should go to college and never give up, and let people know it’s never too late to do anything.” When the class was asked whether they wanted the super hero to be a man or a woman, they said both. Both genders have key roles. Students also proposed to have the figures painted with various skin tones…“to be multi-racial as a symbol of unity, as a whole, instead of just focusing on one thing,” said tenth grader Ibraheem Mohammad.

Muralist and historian with deep roots in the Oakland community, Calvin Grey spoke with the 4th period art class to help inform the project. Grey helped provide a history of West Oakland for the youth, telling tales of his own experiences as a youngster, and sharing stories of the heroes that really made a difference in his life. Many of these heroes were McClymonds graduates themselves who went on to become international superstars.

The project is giving youth the rare opportunity to be critically engaged in a public forum, really allowing their voices to be heard. As part of the project, students attended and presented the design to the Public Art Advisory Committee for the City of Oakland (PAAC), giving students the chance to talk about their ideas and receive feedback on the project. Students were nervous, but the crowd was supportive and reactions to the project were heartfelt. The room roared with applause as the committee unanimously approved the design.

The first of six murals was completed in July 2012 and serves as a gateway between Oakland and Emeryville, being located under the 580 freeway on San Pablo between 35th St. and 36th St. AHC plans to have all six murals complete within three years. Successive murals will be located along the 580 freeway from Martin Luther King Jr. Way to Market Street.

AHC will be hiring mainly Oakland based artists to paint the murals, as the whole process will promote and exemplify community collaboration from beginning to end.

The only thing standing in the way of the project’s progress is funding. AHC has raised enough money to complete the first mural, but needs your help to get the next five underway. To provide support please email, visit AHC’s website at, or call 510-652-5530.