‘Made with love’: Black history mural inspires reflection

Audra Soni, Contributing Writer

Something big, bold, and beautiful—that’s the
vision Upper School (US) English Teacher Alda Farlow
had for the hallway between the theater and the library,
where she undertook the creation of a giant mural
now covered with images of 280 influential Black
Americans throughout history. The effort began as a
passion project for her during quarantine, she said.
“It was part of the bigger theme, which was
celebrating Black pride, Black joy, and Black
excellence,” she said. “And, in telling the story, I
wanted people to understand that Black history isn’t
just about a few characters in history that we hear over
and over and over again. It’s always unfolding, and it’s
more complicated.”
Ms. Farlow said she tried to render Black history
in America by showing its past, present, and future
and by featuring figures of varying levels of fame who
have sacrificed something in order to make a change
in the world.
“I wanted people to understand the myriad
contributions by African Americans to the American
story,” she said. “It’s not enough to just know who
Frederick Douglass and Rosa Parks and Harriet
Tubman are; [it’s important] to know that there are
people today who are making changes and are fighting
to make change.”
The background of the mural is an artistic
expression of the Pan-African flag to emphasize all of
humanity’s African roots, Ms. Farlow said, and several
mirrors of different sizes also appear in the middle of
the mural to add a personal dimension to the piece.
“I wanted whoever is looking at the mural to see
themselves as important in the story of history,” Ms.
Farlow said, “whether you’re African American or not.”
Seeing the faces on the mural as she walks down
the hall has felt powerful for her as a Black woman, Ms.
Farlow added.
“We’re all part of history. All of our stories matter,”
she said. “It does sadden me that Black history has
had to fight so hard for legitimacy as American
history. My biggest hope is people understand
that it’s all human history, and it all matters.”
Though Ms. Farlow conceived and directed the

creation of the mural on her own, she had help from

multiple faculty members, including US Library Co-
Director Camille Hoven, who helped curate a list of

individuals to include in the mural; US Math Teacher
and Service Learning Co-Coordinator Meena Kaur,
who helped paint the wall behind the pictures; US
Science Teacher Terry Cox, who helped lay out the
images; and US Film and Video Teacher Chris Gaines,
who created the list of names alongside the mural
with an embossed Pan-African flag in the background.
Ms. Hoven said that in her opinion, one theme
unites the wall.
“I hope everyone looks at the mural and sees
love,” she said. “It was made with love. The people on
it are loved, and the people reflected in the mirrors are
loved. It’s true that there is a lot of hate in the world, but
I do think there is more love, and that can be powerful.”
Ms. Kaur said she likes the mural for its powerful
themes.
“I like that there are mirrors in the center so
students can see themselves amongst the important
historical and present figures. I like that we painted
the wall behind the images in black, red, and green—
the colors of Black history month,” Ms. Kaur said.
“I like that students have a space to see images
of people who are not typically put at the center. I
like that it takes up a whole wall to present so many
people and that we could have used even more room.”
Mr. Cox said every day when he passes the mural
on the way to his office, he feels many emotions.
“Seeing all the faces up there and their
contributions, obviously, to our history—not only
as African Americans or [people] of color but just
to American history—it brings up a great sense of
pride. [I] just look at that and stand in the center
and think about what my contribution will be to the
history,” Mr. Cox said. “But sometimes, it also brings
up a great deal of disappointment in myself for not
knowing more of the individuals who are up there.”
While Gabby Blanco ’21 wishes there were more
pushes for change at the school, she appreciates
the prominent placement of the mural, she said.
“I think my favorite part [of the mural] is [that]
it’s unavoidable, and I like that I can educate myself
on figures that I wasn’t aware of before,” she said.
Sydney Bernstein ’22 said one quotation that

appears high up in the mural particularly strikes her.

“[It’s] the one that says, ‘If you’ve ever wondered
what you’d do during slavery, the Holocaust,
or a civil rights movement, you’re doing it right
now,’” Sydney said. “That reminded me that even
if you’re not outright racist, if you’re not making
efforts to be anti-racist, you’re part of the problem.”
The school plans to keep the mural up until at least
next February. Before then, Ms. Farlow said, she hopes
to hold a competition where students match as many
pictures in the mural to the adjacent names as they
can and to invite community members to add their
own photographs of influential Black Americans.