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Family Tradition Survives In Mural Project

The “Community Faces” mural at Market Creek Plaza in southeastern San Diego has come down and will be replaced with a new one showing faces of younger community members. But in one family, the tradition will carry on. | Video Credit: Nic McVicker, KPBS

By Claire Trageser
Logo for K P B S San Diego

The “Community Faces” mural at Market Creek Plaza in southeastern San Diego has displayed portraits of influential community members since 2003, but no more. The mural has come down and will be replaced with a new one showing faces of younger community members.

But in one family, the tradition will carry on.

Shirley Junior, an 80-year-old Emerald Hills resident, was illustrated in the old mural. Her great-granddaughter, 15-year-old Nikayla Jackson, will be in the new one.

Junior remembers when her portrait was taken for the original mural.

“When I saw that picture, I said, ‘Oh, no, that cannot go on the wall,'” Junior said. “I didn’t think too much about it. I just pulled my hair back in a ponytail.”

She got her picture retaken, and then it was painted into the mural along with images of 26 other community members. They were displayed for more than a decade on the side of the Food4Less grocery store in the Market Creek Plaza on the corner of Euclid Avenue and Market Street.

Junior said people were picked by the community to be in the mural.

“And not just black people calling for black people, and Mexicans calling for Mexicans, and white calling for white,” she said. “But those of us who were trying to make a difference in our community.”

Faces-east_wall_t800The former Community Faces mural at Market Creek Plaza appears in this undated photo. Shirley Junior, wearing yellow, appears in the top left corner of the third panel from the left. | Photo Courtesy of the Jacobs Center

Junior is a retired San Diego Mesa College child development professor who was selected for her work starting a childcare program for low-income residents in her neighborhood.

“My mother taught me … it doesn’t matter how long you live, but it does make a difference if you make change in at least one person,” Junior said. “She said you can’t change the world, but it’s very important that you don’t live and die, and never make a difference in one person’s life.”

Nikayla said her great-grandmother has definitely made a difference in her life.

“Everything that she’s been through, she’s tough,” Nikayla said. The teenager loves seeing the mural of the woman she calls, “Granny.”

“A lot of my friends lived around that neighborhood, so I’d be like, oh yeah, that’s my granny,” she said. “That lady that you see on the side of Food4Less, she’s a part of my family.”

Now Nikayla will take her granny’s place up on that wall.

The high school freshman was chosen for the new mural after completing a summer program co-sponsored by The Jacobs Center, a nonprofit that developed and runs Market Creek Plaza, and The AjA Project, a nonprofit that aims to influence communities by teaching young people photography.

Melinda Chiment, AjA’s executive director, said the summer program Full STE[A+]M Ahead teaches science and math through photography. For example, making pinhole cameras or developing photos to learn scientific principles.

At the end of the program, the 25 students responded to the prompt, “The future of my community is …” Then six were chosen to be showcased in the mural.

Nikayla is one of the six. She lives in City Heights but goes to Serra High School in Tierrasanta. She wrote that in the future, she hopes her community has a better image among her school peers.

“The people I spend most of my time with believe that the ‘ghetto is the ghetto,'” she wrote. “It maps out an ignorant, ugly, embarrassing drawing of myself and I hate it. People at school fear me number ONE because I’m black and number TWO because I ride the bus to City Heights. THE HOOD. They think I’m poor, but I’m the TOTAL opposite. So I’m not too sure what I’d change, maybe the name, the image, the fear.”

Nikayla is working to change that image through her photography. She posts pictures of her community on Instagram to show it’s more than the stereotypes.

“I posted those pictures and they’re like, ‘Oh, where is that?’ and I’m like, in City Heights,” she said of her classmates. “They’re like, ‘Oh, that looks really nice.'”

Nikayla said when people see her painted up on the wall, “I hope they think the same thing as when I saw my granny. How does she do it? And how can I get up there, too?”

New_Comm_Faces_Mural_t800A rendering of the new mural at Market Creek Plaza. Nikayla Jackson is shown in the middle of the top row. | Photo Courtesy of the Jacobs Center

Junior wants her great-granddaughter to continue to learn from her life.

“Hopefully how she has seen me carry myself, how she’s seen me conduct myself,” Junior said. “And even not about the picture on the wall. Because my Bible teaches me that it’s never about me. It’s never about me.”

And how does Junior feel about her picture coming down?

“Ooooh, Lord. You know what? They were only supposed to be up there three years,” she exclaimed of the mural. “But it took them all those years to try to find somebody to put up there.”

Now that somebody will be Nikayla, who will carry on the family tradition of looking down from Market Creek’s walls.

 

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