Heights Libraries Board and FRIENDs of Heights Libraries create ‘Black Excellence’ mural

On September 26, local artists Jimmy Hayden and Wayne Pollard, and Heights Libraries board member Gabe Crenshaw, transformed the parking lot of the Coventry PEACE Campus into a mural celebrating the achievements of Black Northeast Ohioans, both past and present.

Embedded in the words “Black Excellence” are images of authors Langston Hughes and Toni Morrison; Oscar-winning actor Halle Berry; athletes LeBron James, Jesse Owens, and Rich Paul; scientist Garrett Morgan; and elected officials Carl Stokes, Louis Stokes, and Stephanie Tubbs-Jones. The mural also gives a nod to the community with the inclusion of the words “Tiger Nation” and the logos of the City of Cleveland Heights and community group Safer Heights.

Crenshaw said the mural’s creation was inspired by recent events. “The most recent killings of Black people both by law enforcement and civilians who deemed it their duty to police Black people is what inspired me to take on this project,” she said. “The phrase ‘black lives matter’ had become politicized and people were unwilling to separate the ethical and moral statement from the organization. This led me to suggest the phrase, ‘Black Excellence.’ ”

Heights Libraries Director Nancy Levin said the creation of the mural was supported by the Library’s board, who wanted to show support to the Black community in the Heights after the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May.

“When we saw the Black Lives Matter murals being painted in Washington, D.C., New York, and Cleveland, the Board of Trustees started to discuss if we should have some sort of affirming artwork at the library. Gabe said she had contacts who could do a great job if we wanted our own mural,” said Levin. “The Board decided that we should ask the FRIENDS of the Heights Libraries if they wished to support the project because they have a long history of supporting artwork for our branches.”

The FRIENDS Board approved the request, and paid for the project, which cost a total of $2,357.

“Honestly, I’m glad we chose Black Excellence because it evokes feelings of joy and pride—it’s a statement of affirmation for the Black community,” Crenshaw continued. “And the location is ideal because as Black children play at the [Coventry] playground, they will be reminded of their excellence, which is not celebrated enough.”

Crenshaw used her local contacts to find the artists. Wayne Pollard was recommended to her by a friend, and she already knew of Jimmy Hayden,  a Cleveland Heights schools alumnus, Heights resident, business owner, and an artist who uses a graffiti art style.

“I hope that the mural’s lasting impact will be to inspire individuals, particularly the Black youth, to explore more deeply Black history and the contributions Black Americans have made to society.”

Photo by Donte Washington

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