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Three days before the Super Bowl in Atlanta, workers tore down a wall in an empty building, only blocks from the Mercedes Benz stadium. The wall bore a mural of Colin Kaepernick. Within days, the artist Fabian Williams raised enough money to gather a handful of fellow artists; they made #Kaeperbowl, nine more murals around the city. The much-publicized effort is only one aspect of Williams' work, however; he has been part of a growing muralist movement in Atlanta for several years, and recently helped organize another series of murals memorializing slain rapper Nipsey Hussle. He and business partner Ash Nash have also launched a nonprofit organization calledBloom aimed at turning Atlanta into "an international arts destination by transforming underserved communities to be self sustainable through creativity."

Along the way, he and other artists are claiming public spaces for images that elevate heroes who look like them and messages that resonate with the people who live there—a pointed rejoinder to the ongoing conflict over Confederate monuments and what is celebrated in public squares of the urban South. "My thing is, if you're going to make laws to protect monuments, then we should make our own monuments bigger. Let's make a four-story statue of MLK right here," Williams said, standing recently in a lot on the corner of Peeples St. and Ralph David Abernathy Blvd., in Atlanta.

Here's Fabian Williams, also known as Occasional Superstar, and his work:

"When they demolished the first Kaep mural, I could'a just sucked it up, went on my way. But my homeboy said, 'Don't let that image be the last thing people see.' This is ground zero—where it all began."
"I made the link between Ali and Kaep fairly early—in terms of him raising consciousness and being straightforward about what he believes in… So I painted him like Ali on that famous cover of Esquire, where he was posing like St. Sebastian, the Christian martyr. The flag is not living up to its ideals, so he's not participating until you get it right. You would think that wouldn't be controversial. But instead, the NFL excommunicated him."
"I call this MLK mural, 'Wake Up West End.' The way this wall is facing, the sun rises on MLK, and he's pointing across the lot to Kaep. Kaep is alive, doing the work. The sun is setting on Kaep. When I'm thinking of doing a piece, I'll sit there and watch the place, how people interact with it. There was a graffiti tag on the wall, so I just painted around it. At first, the owner of the building came out and said, 'We don't need this here.' So he called the cops. A cop came and said to him, 'You don't like this?'"
"We know race is a social construct—so holding us up is the next phase of human development. Black people are so lacking positive images of ourselves. We don't see a path to greatness… But you read about Nipsey, he was building computers at 12! Black people doin' that shit all the time!"
"Another artist named JR worked with me on this. His side of Nipsey is alive. My side is after his transformation, turned into stardust. That's why I used fluorescent colors. He's gone back to the wisdom you lose when you're alive, to the African ancestors—knowledge we don't have access to."
"Here we are on the precipice of the future, you got nothin' but bad news. Nothin' but dystopia. Where's utopia? In the dystopian future, with white supremacy, people that look like me are where we should be going. Let's pay attention to these people. These are people that got it right… If we're going to have statues, or murals — it needs to be of people who are uniters." (Williams also helps raise money and provide support for other artists, like Keenan Chapman, who made this mural of Nipsey Hussle in Atlanta.)
"The Daughters of the Confederacy were not stupid [when they gathered support for Confederate monuments]! They understood the power of imagery! So the more people see him winning, the more people come from other parts of the country to see him [in murals on Atlanta walls]—the more it'll come to happen. Once people accept this in their minds, it can't be stopped."
"In the Old 4th Ward, I painted Malcolm X, MLK and James Baldwin and a dude comes and painted over it… I was going to step up to his home, but then I remembered I have a bad knee and I was like, 'What's the best way to deal with this? You painted over MLK, James Baldwin—in Atlanta, and you're white?! You oughta deal with this shit or I'm gonna make you famous!' I posted on IG. He had to close down his account. He got in touch. 'You dissed this icon in the city of his birth!' Cats was comin to mess him up. He helped me repair it. He had to!"
"These are billboards—a projected image of where we should be at. People relevant to where we should be at… If you put up uplifting images of any people, they will start to see themselves differently."
"We've been in '68 since '68. Here it is in 2019—and when I say something Ali or MLK said, people start looking at me like I'm crazy or some genius… I go through [neighborhoods] here and think, with a little elbow grease this place would be magical—because the people are magical."


Jesse Pratt López

Jesse is graduating from Savannah College of Art and Design in Atlanta (SCAD) this year; her work has appeared in the Guardian, the Atlantic, PBS NewsHour and other outlets.

Timothy Pratt is based outside Atlanta. He has worked with The New York Times, The Guardian, The Associated Press, Reuters, and many other outlets, covering race, immigration, science, soccer, and more, in English and Spanish.