Local artist Addonis Parker has built a reputation providing much needed art-based services to the local community. The Ohio native quickly realized the need for arts education in South Florida, especially among the children of Miami's Liberty City. Since the late '90s, Parker, in close collaboration with the YMCA, has striven to beef up the arts and science after-school curriculum in some of the city's most overlooked communities. His post there helped him launch his own Art Forever Studio, a space dedicated to the prescience of art in early childhood education.
Next Saturday, July 11, Parker is set to unveil, Thunder and Enlightening, a 550-square-foot mural to cover the facade of OneUnited Bank at 3275 NW 79th St., Miami, a branch of the country's largest black-owned financier. This latest project takes a hard edged approach to the passing journey of racism, bigotry, fear and falsehood, at a time when the nation is reeling for a series of ethnically charged incidents.
"It's important for people to know that African Americans don't talk for nothing," Parker told New Times, of the recent protests across the country. "A lot of people say, 'Oh, they're marching again,' as if it was going through the motions." While Parker is channeling the growing frustrations felt within the African-American community, he admits that locally South Florida hasn't been tested in ways Baltimore, Ferguson, and others have.
The work anchors the exterior of OneUnited Bank, an institution whose mission is to revitalize downtrodden African-American neighborhoods by way of financial literacy. "They let me have full creative control," said Parker. "There were things I wanted to say about this, and that, but it was only my work with children that held me back. I always have to keep them in mind."
Despite the racially charged imagery, Parker downplays the symbolism in favor of a much more inclusive message. In his eyes, while racial tension underlie much of public life, the larger issue is more of a class struggle.
"Poor people bleed, while rich people can afford Band-Aids," he explained. In South Florida's increasingly diverse and gentrified landscapes the message couldn't be more apt. It's a sad maxim that OneUnited has been trying to overturn ever since it's original inception back in 1968. Though the institution has suffered setbacks over the years, its success in the late aughts has made it a resource for those looking to build or rebuild their credit, finance a home, or fund a business.
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"There's a warmth you feel when you walk in that branch, that you don't feel in any other bank," said Parker of his collaboration with OneUnited.
Together with the Miami Children's Initiative and Liberty City Renaissance, OneUnited funded the four-month project where 21 inner city youths from nine schools across the county participated in the research, planning, and painting of the mural — all under Parker's watchful eye. During the apprenticeship the teens received a $250 stipend, opened at bank account at the branch, and participated in financial planning courses. Their work looks to appropriate figures like Trayvon Martin, Christina Taylor Green, and Michael Brown, along with local and national law enforcement in a contemporary pastiche of the inner-city zeitgeist.
"I had this idea three years ago, but it took a while before all the right people could come together on the project," said Parker.
If you're interested in getting the first glimpse of the mural, then trek out to OneUnited Bank on July 11 at 5 p.m. for what's promised to be an epic unveiling.