Chicago is home to a few well-known legends and heroes, including our 44th president, Barack Obama. In addition, there are living legends in the Black community whose life work has made significant changes in the lives of many in the Black community. Three of those unsung heroes and legends will be featured in a mural coming soon to the Jessie “Ma” Houston Park, located at 50th and Cottage Grove. This will be the second mural at the park. The first mural, “Feed Your Child the Truth,” was created by Bernard Williams in 1994 and commemorates the life of Jessie “Ma” Houston.
Attorney Alex Breland, a member of the Houston Park Advisory Council, shared that the council sought to honor legends of the community. Breland’s wife, Elizabeth Todd Breland, an Associate Professor of History at the University of Illinois at Chicago and an authority on Chicago politics and education reform, also provided insight into the selection of the honorees. The advisory council tapped world-renown street artist, Rahmaan “Statik” Barnes to create the mural. The mural, entitled “Living Legends,” will honor Timuel D. Black, Jr., Rosie Simpson, and Rev. Helen Sinclair. Each has co-signed the project and actively participated in the planning of the mural. Breland shared, “In selecting the honorees, the Park Advisory Council was interested in featuring local heroes who had less public notoriety, yet had contributed significantly to civil rights activism and service to the community over the years.” In addition, it was important to the project to feature subjects who were still alive and able to witness the appreciation for their lifelong work in the community. He added that the Chicago Association of Realtors, the Southeast Chicago Commission, and members of the community provided financial backing and support. Breland shared that the people in the community are touched by the life work of the legends selected for the Living Legends mural and look forward to the completion of the project.
Graphic Artist, Rahmaan “Statik” Barnes
For the past 26 years, Graphic artist, Rahmaan “Statik” Barnes, has created beautifully mastered murals. Initially beginning with small murals and graffiti in the 1990s and moving to full murals in the late 1990s, Statik shared that he has finished over 600 projects across the globe. Other projects in the Chicago area include murals located at 87th and Vincennes (a depiction of the Brookins family), 47th and Lake Park (Jean Baptiste Point du Sable), and 75th Street off King Drive (Gwendolyn Brooks). “I want to make landmarks in public art,” said Statik. The artist also shared that, “Although Malcolm X and President Obama are considered sacred among our people, the Black Diaspora should not limit itself to icons who have been the subject of numerous paintings and murals. Local heroes cherish the idea of being the subject of my murals. It is important that they are honored for their work while they are living.”
The “Living Legends” Mural Honorees
Timuel D. Black, Jr.
Timuel D. Black, Jr., 102 years young, is an activist, historian, author, veteran, and retired teacher known for his tireless work in politics, education, and civil rights. Over the years, Black taught in the Chicago Public Schools, the City Colleges of Chicago, and the University of Chicago. He was also instrumental in the grassroots organization and campaign trail to elect Chicago’s first Black mayor, the late Mayor Harold Washington.
Rosie Simpson is a longtime education activist who was a parent active in the 1963 “Freedom Day” protest against the Chicago Public Schools. During this protest, over 200,000 students across the city skipped classes to protest the policies of then-Superintendent Benjamin Willis that reinforced school segregation. Simpson’s tireless work in the boycott encouraged parents and the community to become more involved in the education of Black children.
Rev. Helen Sinclair
Rev. Helen “Queen Mother” Sinclair, 101 years young, has served as a prison chaplain at Statesville Correctional Center in Joliet. She is the daughter of the legendary Jessie “Ma” Houston, who also served as a prison chaplain and was a founding member of Operation PUSH. Like her mother, Rev. Sinclair dedicated her life to prison reform, correctional ministry, and civil rights. The Illinois Department of Corrections named her as the first female chaplain in adult male maximum-security prisons.
Work on the Living Legends mural will continue through August, and an unveiling ceremony is tentatively planned for September. For information on Jessie “Ma” Houston Park, visit https://www.chicagoparkdistrict.com/parks-facilities/houston-playground-park. For information on Rahmaan “Statik” Barnes, visit www.rahmaanstatik.com.
Donna Hammond is a contributing writer and seminarian. Follow her on Twitter, @DeeLois623, and on Facebook at DeeLois Speaks.