Community rallies after downtown Gresham mural vandalized
The Gresham community rallied together after someone vandalized a mural in downtown celebrating Black leaders — helping undo the damage and raising funds to better protect the artwork in the future.
Someone spray-painted graffiti across the face of Madam C.J. Walker — a Black entrepreneur, philanthropist and activist — while also tagging a list of names identifying everyone celebrated in the piece.
The mural, called "Hairitage," was commissioned by Tanesha Harris, owner and stylist of Hair Haven, 90 N.W. Second Ave. It was painted by Munta Eric Mpwo, a Portland-based artist.
It is unclear when the mural was defaced, or why only the depiction of Walker was targeted.
Following the discovery of the graffiti on Monday afternoon, May 24, while Harris was out of town, many different people rallied together on social media. First Gresham Outdoor Public Art, a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting community art, started gathering funds to repaint the mural. Then on Tuesday, May 25, a local resident stopped by the business to fix the art. Kashi Pasaye removed the graffiti from Walker's face and the list of names. There are also plans to seal and protect the mural from future damage.
Harris said she was overwhelmed and overjoyed by the support of the community.
"Hairitage" was completed last summer following the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. It features Floyd; abolitionist Harriet Tubman; President Barack and First Lady Michelle Obama; and Civil Rights activist Rosa Parks, among others.
Walker is famed for developing and marketing a line of cosmetics and hair care products for Black women through a business she founded, Madam C.J. Walker Manufacturing Company, in 1910. She was also known for being a patron of the arts and opening her estate in Irvington, New York, as a social gathering place for the Black community.
Her depiction held a special place for Harris as the owner of a hair salon.
"The mural ties together influential people that allowed people like me to own businesses," said Harris, who has been a Black business owner in downtown Gresham for more than seven years. "We have more to come, but have made good strides as a community."
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