Dozens of community builders, artists and educators started a two-week-long mural project this weekend called, “From Harlem with Love: A Mural for Yuri and Malcolm X,” to commemorate the legacies of the late civil rights activists.
A 15-feet high and 65- to 70-feet wide bare wall at 125th Street and Old Broadway will soon be filled with vibrant colors. Sunday, July 3, organizers and residents sat under the hot summer sun as they began to paint parts of the design for community painting day.
The civil rights duo Yuri Kochiyama and Malcolm X are known for spearheading the Civil Rights Movement in New York.
The Japanese-American freedom fighter participated in Harlem Freedom Schools and the African-American, Asian-American and Third World movements for human rights.
Kochiyama met Malcolm X in the 1960s and the two became friends. In a 1965 photograph, she can be seen holding Malcolm X’s head as he died at Harlem’s Audubon Ballroom.
Columbia University approved the contract for the community mural project last week. The grassroots initiative costs approximately $7,000 and is being painted a block away from Kochiyama’s apartment in the Manhattanville houses.
“We wanted to make sure the community project was accountable to folks in our neighborhood,” said Julien Terrell, executive director of Brotherhood-Sister Sol. “When they walk down Old Broadway, they can see something that they are a part of.”
Terrell works on the educational branch of the project. He has implemented a series of seminars, teach-ins and curriculums on civil rights history for young people throughout Harlem.
Since last July, community organizers have worked with the families of Malcolm X and Kochiyama to develop an artistic space for activism.
Akemi Kochiyama, the granddaughter of Kochiyama, said her grandmother loved to see the community work together.
“It’s an opportunity to tell a story about the relationship between Malcolm X and Yuri Kochiyama,” Kochiyama said. “Two people who have done a lot of important community-building work in Harlem.”
Sophia Dawson, a visual artist, activist and educator said the design uses a range of visuals that reveal the friendship between the early freedom fighters.
“One thing that is very important in the design is the postcards exchanged between Malcolm X and Yuri as he traveled,” Dawson said. “We didn’t just want to talk about the past, but what is going on now. These are the original people to advocate for these issues that people are still demanding.”
Dawson added, “A lot of people don’t know they have these heroes to look up to.”
The design uses a bridge, postcards, a sunset, Harlem street signs and a picture of the Earth.
In 2014, 93-year-old Kochiyama died of natural causes. According to Akemi, her grandmother would have been moved by the collaborative art experience. The mural will be up for at least 10 years.
“It would bring her hope,” Kochiyama said. “She would be so excited. She would think it is so beautiful. This is the type of work she did every day of her life.”