Through Oakland mural project, a superhero is born

Umiika Rose as Ja'Khi, the female superhero created for the new mural.

Umiika Rose as Ja'Khi, the female superhero created for the new mural.

On Thursday, the Oakland Superheroes Mural Project, an initiative by the Oakland-based nonprofit Attitudinal Healing Connection (AHC) to revitalize and add beauty to some of the city’s blighted areas, launched the first in a series of six planned street murals under the bridge on San Pablo Avenue and 35th Street.

Working with students from McClymonds High School’s 4th period art class, ACH commissioned the creation of a storyline and painting of the murals, which artists and students are using as a medium to tell stories about their experiences in the community.

In the mural, which took an entire school year and nearly $75,000 to put up according Phyllis Hall of the AHC,  15-year-old McClymonds High School student Umiika Rose is portrayed as Ja’Khi, a female superhero known as the “princess of knowledge.”

Ja’Khi inspires the people around her to work hard and achieve their goals, while her male counterpart Josiah is portrayed as an alumnus who returns to give back to the community. Together, the two characters help their peers confront challenges and inspire optimism.

The superheroes and storylines were created by the McClymonds students and are not based on any specific traditions. Rather, the characters are a mixture of folkloric heroes and futuristic 007-style heroes with versatile wristwatches that give them a sixth sense.

Umiika Rose speaks at the launch of the mural

Ja’Khi’s wrist-watch “doubles as a time holder and a mirror. it shows her the people who may need her help and gives her the time to possibly change their lives,” as described in a brochure distributed by the Oakland Super Heroes Mural Project.

Painted on the solid concrete walls under the overpass on 35th street, the murals portray a vivid urban scene in which a Ja’Khi, towering young woman with braided hair, is projected over streets with children playing and elderly people walking hand in hand. The third character is DJ Justice, described as a master of block parties who inspires unity and change. 

Speaking at the launch of the mural on San Pablo Avenue in West Oakland yesterday, Rose said the year-long project was a great learning experience for her and her peers. “The mural means a lot to me because I grew up in West Oakland and took part in the project,” Rose said. “It taught me that when you set out to do something, you should not give up.”

Rose was a freshman when she was nominated to be the central character of the nearly 100-foot mural that spans the length of highway I-580. Now she is a sophomore and she says her involvement in the project has changed her.

“The mural has made a great impact on me and my leadership skills are better. I have learned to embrace myself as an individual,” Rose said. “I know what it feels like to be without family and I do not want any child to go through what I have seen.”

Hall said the six murals would form an important part of the organization’s effort to build positive learning experiences for young people in Oakland.  The first mural is in an area bordering Oakland and Emeryville, known as the “Gateway.” The other five murals will continue the story of Ja’Khi,  Josiah and DJ Justice, running under highway 580 and involving the artistic input of students from at least 20 schools.

“AHC will begin engaging schools to created places from blighted areas to beautiful areas,” Hall said. “We love Oakland, we love Emeryville, we love the Gateway and this is about honoring the place we are from.”

“This is a good use of the space,” said George Hill, a passerby who stopped to witness the ribbon cutting. “These bridges are normally seen as dark spots at night. People avoid them.”

To learn more about the Oakland Superhero Mural Project or support the program, visit Attitudinal Healing Connection’s website here.

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