"Off the Wall" and the Freedom University Mural Project
This week, Freedom University joined Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, WonderRoot, and the NFL Atlanta Host Committee in the launch of "Off the Wall," a community-based social justice mural project that will unveil more than 30 murals in conjunction with Atlanta's hosting of the 2019 Superbowl.
Meanwhile, at Freedom University's Summer Arts Program, students in the Mural Project class worked on their painting skills with renowned local artists Fahamu Pecou and Charmaine Minniefield in preparation for the mural installation later this summer.
We are honored to be partnering with our friends and longtime supporters at WonderRoot. Through community dialogues and the arts, we hope to make raise consciousness about the undocumented student movement and portray the dignity and contributions of Atlanta's immigrant community.
From the New York Times: "Atlanta to Bring Human Rights Murals to City for Super Bowl"
Although the Super Bowl is a one-time event in Atlanta, those involved with Off the Wall hope the event leaves an enduring legacy. In recent years, street art has popped up throughout the city. By focusing on human and civil rights as the content of the murals, Off the Wall hopes to create lasting conversations about issues affecting the city.
The artwork will begin appearing in the city this fall. A subcommittee is scouting locations and talent to produce the work, but officials said some of the murals will be downtown. Freedom University, an initiative that provides college prep and other services for [undocumented students], will help in both the creation and installation of the art.
"Young people in this city have been leading the way for human rights," Freedom University executive director Laura Emiko Soltis said. She said they were "standing on the shoulders of giants," referencing leaders such as Lewis.
NFL players have sparked controversy and drawn criticism from President Donald Trump and some members of the public for kneeling during the national anthem. Although inspired by the way people are using their spotlight to promote human rights, Off the Wall was in the works before the anthem protests, Appleton said. The project has the support of the NFL, according to Daniels.
"This project was inspired by the way artists and other activists struggle for justice and equality for all," Appleton said, calling protests a powerful way to transform communities.
Statement by Dr. Laura Emiko Soltis, Executive Director of Freedom University:
Good morning. My name is Emiko Soltis, and I serve as the Executive Director of Freedom University. Freedom U is a modern-day freedom school for undocumented students banned from public universities in Georgia. Freedom U is proud to serve as a community partner in the Off the Wall Project, and I am deeply honored to serve on the project’s advisory council.
In my capacity as a teacher at the one true sanctuary campus in the world – where each and every student is undocumented – I have the rare opportunity to teach and learn from some of the most courageous young people in the world today. My students were brought to Georgia as children, and have gone to the same schools, played in the same parks, worked in the same industries, and paid the same taxes as other Georgians. But unlike other Georgians, they cannot attend our top public universities and they cannot vote.
In 2011, Georgia became one of only three states in the country – including South Carolina and Alabama – to ban undocumented students from public higher education. In doing so, the state of Georgia effectively ushered in an era of modern educational segregation in the South where an entire population of young people of color are again prohibited from admission to college – not based on their academic merit, but on a social status out of their control. It is telling that the same universities that ban undocumented students today also banned Black students sixty years ago. Despite this immense barrier to higher education, and living in a political moment of profound uncertainty and fear, undocumented students are coming out of the shadows. They are building bridges with students, communities of faith, and social justice organizations across the city, and are leading a mighty freedom struggle for their human rights.
And here in Atlanta, they are standing on the shoulders of giants. You see, the spark that lit the wildfire of mass civil disobedience to desegregate Atlanta in the Spring of 1960 was a document written by a young woman named Rosalyn Pope, a student at Spelman College. Signed by Black student leaders of the Atlanta Student Movement, they articulated the injustices they faced – in education, employment, housing, voting, and policing – and made a powerful call to action in a document they called “An Appeal for Human Rights.”
Young people, for generations in this city, have been leading the struggle for human rights. And I say human rights intentionally, and with great respect, because the legacy of the Black Freedom struggle here in Atlanta was much more than a movement for civil rights, or the right to be treated equally under the laws of a government. It was a movement for human rights, a radical assertion of people’s inherent dignity and rights by virtue of their humanity. It was a movement that rejected racism, and its function in creating groups of people who are physically exploitable but politically powerless. It was a movement that proclaimed that we cannot accept one’s labor, but deny their humanity. This was clear in the signs held by King and the sanitation workers on strike in Memphis in April 1968, that said in big bold letters: I AM A MAN.
It was a movement that recognized the full spectrum of rights: political, civil, economic, social, and cultural rights. Rights like the right to education, the right to a decent wage, the right to housing, the right to join a union, and the right to vote: rights that were enshrined 70 years ago in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – the most widely translated documented in the history of the world. It was a message of human rights that allowed these young Black leaders in Atlanta to connect with and inspire other oppressed people around the globe who were yearning to be free.
It is my hope that through the powerful medium of art, and in the spirit of collaboration across our many communities here in Atlanta, this project will elevate and advance Atlanta’s contribution to the global human rights movement.
It is my hope that this project will help visitors to Atlanta recognize and respect all people of this soil, and especially those who are often made invisible: 1 in 10 Georgians is an immigrant. 1 in 3 of these immigrants is undocumented. And many of those we call “immigrants” are actually descendants of the indigenous people of this land. And it is immigrants who are working the soil in Georgia today: planting, picking, packing, shipping, and preparing the food that makes all other labor and all other endeavors – including football games – possible.
Finally, I hope that by engaging with undocumented youth and other young leaders in Atlanta, this project will also make visible the role that young people have played - and will continue to play - in building that better world we know is possible. Thank you.