Meet ‘the Power’ behind this high school mural

A mural on the South Mountain Drive side of Ashland High School features eight people. Peter Finkle photo
September 3, 2022

Truth to Power Club created a mural celebrating BIPOC (Part 1)

By Peter Finkle for Ashland.news

“The Power” behind this relatively new mural is the Truth to Power Club at Ashland High School. Students returning to the high school this month will find bold splashes of color and eight painted portraits on South Mountain Avenue. This artwork, called the BIPOC Celebration Mural (BIPOC stands for Black, Indigenous and people of color), was started in late September 2021 and is a new addition to Ashland’s public art collection.

Some public art exists simply to bring out beauty and smiles. Some seems to exist to befuddle us. To me, the BIPOC Celebration Mural is different — it is educational and aspirational art.

In this series of three articles, I hope to illuminate the creation of the artwork and the many layers of meaning and aspiration in the artwork. The art was created by a group of high school students who were deeply affected by the November 2020 shooting death of local Black teen Aidan Ellison.

Truth to Power club members at their drive to provide aid to houseless in the area, in support of Judi’s Midnight Diner, in February 2021. Truth to Power club photo

At the mural dedication in November 2021, club co-founder Isadora Millay spoke of the Truth to Power Club’s name and purpose: “Our name comes from Quaker tradition. In a world rocked by climate change and inequities, we speak our truth to all the proponents of power in modern America. Our power doesn’t come from money or brute force. It comes from speaking our truth.”

After Aidan Ellison’s senseless death, club members began an educational anti-racism project they called “our promise to Aidan.” They were determined not to have a brief burst of activity, which then fizzled out. They wanted an ongoing program that touched hearts and minds. One part is an educational podcast series on a variety of topics, which you can listen to here. Second, they envisioned the mural as a beautiful way to reach generations of students and community members with a message about social justice and tolerance.

The mural’s educational message reaches back in Ashland history to the elimination of local Native American people and their culture in the 1850s. Back to the Oregon constitution of 1859 that prohibited Black people from settling in Oregon. Back to the local KKK marching white-hooded in Ashland’s 4th of July Parade in 1922.

The mural’s aspirational aspect looks forward to a day when we truly have “liberty and justice for all” (as we recite in the Pledge of Allegiance) in the United States of America and here in Ashland.

Club members hope people who view the mural will seek to learn more not only about these individuals, but also about how we can work toward a less racist and more inclusive community in Ashland and the Rogue Valley.

The Truth to Power club presented this vision for the mural at the Public Arts Commission meeting of July 16, 2021.
Introducing the mural subjects

“When it came time for choosing the subjects of the mural, we looked for those individuals whose work and activism have helped our community to grow in its inclusivity, compassion and equity.”

—Anya Moore, at the mural dedication

Here is a brief introduction to the people on the mural, from left to right:

• Winona LaDuke grew up in Ashland and graduated from Ashland High. She is an Indigenous environmentalist, farmer and organizer who lives on the White Earth Reservation in Northern Minnesota.

• Walidah Imarisha has spoken in Ashland, and around the state, about Black history in Oregon. She is an African American professor, writer and educator.

• Tehlor Kay Mejia grew up in Ashland. She is a Mexican American author of young adult novels that address themes of culture, justice and gender.

• Grandma Aggie (Agnes Baker Pilgrim) taught Indigenous wisdom in Ashland (and around the world) for decades. She was a spiritual elder of the Takelma tribe until her passing in 2019.

• Michelle Alexander graduated from Ashland High School. She is an African American lawyer, professor and author of the influential book “The New Jim Crow.”

• Gina DuQuenne was elected to the Ashland City Council in 2020. An African American and Queer woman, she has been active in local work for justice.

• Lawson Inada taught English at Southern Oregon University from 1966 to 2002 and still lives in Ashland. A Japanese American poet, he was Oregon’s poet laureate from 2006 to 2010.

• Aidan Ellison attended Ashland High School for a time. The mural seeks to honor his life and memory.

Coming soon: In part 2 of the series, we will meet artist Isa Martinez Moore and drop in on the painting process, then learn more about the eight people featured in the mural in Part 3.

Peter Finkle gives Ashland history and art walking tours. See WalkAshland.com for walking tour information, or to request a custom tour.

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Bert Etling

Bert Etling

Bert Etling is the executive editor of Ashland.news. Email him at betling@ashland.news.


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