The Malcolm X Memorial Foundation, supported by the Nebraska Arts Council and the Nebraska Cultural Endowment, commissioned a 15-foot x 34-foot mural on the east wall of North Omaha’s J-N-J Grocery store, 3247 N. 42nd Street. The mural was publicly unveiled on Nov. 9, 2013.
Omaha artist Gabrielle Gaines-Liwaru, founder of G. D’Ebony Outreach, and Lincoln, Nebraska artist Ben Jones, founder of Anti-Oppression Art, collaborated on the mural project. An inscription from Malcolm X states, “We need more light about each other… Light creates understanding, understanding creates love, love creates patience and patience creates UNITY.” Chéamera Liwaru, an Omaha North High School student, researched and found the inspirational quote by Malcolm X. Lethaniel Bradford, an Omaha Benson High School student, painted the inscription on the mural.
The Malcolm X Memorial Foundation values youth leadership and character development through the arts and encouraged neighborhood youth participation in the creation of the mural. Several young people, ranging from grade school to freshmen in college, assisted with the mural.
“I do what I do to honor my ancestors by making the world a better place for our descendants.” Ben Jones said. “In art I hope my work might inspire others towards the same.”
During the painting process, neighborhood residents stopped by and shared life experiences and positive feedback with the artists.
“I didn’t come to J-N-J Grocery just to paint,” says Gaines-Liwaru, “I came to listen to the voices of the neighborhood.”
“We want to thank Dr. Marguerita Washinton, publisher of The Omaha Star, for giving the project her blessing. This endeavor was a labor of love and a mission of anti-oppression. That best sums the overall experience for both Ben Jones and myself," said Gaines-Liwaru.
“We came to paint, and to unite with a team of people who believe in helping bring people in the neighborhood a sense of personal empowerment. J-N-J grocery store sits in the middle of an area that features the Omaha Street School, the Turning Point campus with Big Mama’s Kitchen & Catering, and the Malcolm X Memorial Foundation Center and Park. So the message of the mural is meant to reflect the beating heart for neighborhood social change that all of these entities are working toward.
“The inscription from Malcolm X on the wall is a truthful and a tough love message that people will not reject as militant. The double imagery of the Malcolm X pointing upward signifies a seriousness and urgency to revitalize love, understanding, patience and unity to our community. We do need more light about each other. In this case lights means understanding God’s connected purpose for us all, to expand and show truth in a way that more people can understand and accept it themselves and our community. A lot of people have associated 42nd and Bedford Avenue as a place of crime and negativity, but we never experienced any of that during more than 45 working hours developing the mural.
“We hope this project will serve as a teaching tool and a source of inspiration for people to live better, to look for things that will bring light and positivity to North Omaha and further evidence of what our community can accomplish through the collaboration of positive, hope-filled people.”