Discovering Birmingham’s inspirational Norwood and Ensley murals

Birmingham murals
Birmingham murals
Ensley Alive mural on the side of the Bethesda Health Center in Ensley. In the photo, left to right, Birmingham Museum of Arts Director Graham Boettcher, Bethesda Health Center’s Bettina Bryd-Giles and mural artist Ukuu Tafari

Over the past six months, Bham Now has written and photographed murals throughout Birmingham.  Last month, we were distraught when we learned several murals in Avondale and Woodlawn were vandalized. From that  story, Bham Now readers told us about a couple of remarkable  murals in Norwood and Ensley.

Here is the story about the murals and the special artist behind them.

Bham Now met  Ukuu Tafari, the artist of the Norwood and Ensley murals on a perfect sunny day next to Railroad Park. We proceeded to travel to the Norwood neighborhood.

On the way to the Norwood Mural, Ukuu described how his grandfather was a preacher from Selma. and had marched at Sunday Bloody. His family moved to Birmingham when he was 8 years old.

Ukuu went to Ensley and Huffman High Schools for two years each, graduating in 1990. He  then went to Jacksonville State University, became restless, and lived in Brooklyn, Philadelphia, and Seattle, just to name a few of the places.

“Always had kinda a rebellious spirit. Folks always wanted me to become a preacher. My preaching is my art,” stated Ukuu.

I work on short films, paintings, designing clothes, furniture – a creative muscle man,” he said with a grin.

Norwood Mural
Unfinished Norwood Mural across from Lewie’s Appliance Store, adjacent to local convenience store
Birmingham
Norwood Mural

The Norwood Mural is located at 3115 12th Ave N, Across from Lewie’s Appliance Store, at the entrance of the historic Norwood Community.

It’s unfinished, so just this week Ukuu started a GoFundMe campaign to help pay for the completion of the mural.

Here is his personal statement  from the fundraising page.

“I started this mural in 2013, a personally significant year. Family illness insisted upon my presence. I wanted to paint and give the only gift I had. To heal and hope to heal others, to reflect, as through history we can see our potential destiny.”

I needed a reminder and declaration of my relevance. To meditate on mortality, seasons, revivals… stories of a place that has gone through more changes demographically than most countries… white flight, black aspirations, cultures and clashes… steel and fire… God and what it means to really be a community. And the constant need of a reminder… maybe a mural can say to you… ” my paint may peel, and your bones turn to dust, but even a whisper from one persons lips and into universal infinity we go…”

All that said, we ran out of funding, and I can not literally sleep at night often because this Mural is not complete.

Birmingham
Norwood Mural, photo by Pat Byington

Ukuu’s goal is to raise $5,000.  Along with re-doing the current mural, he is going to enlist children in the neighborhood to help design the blank spaces to the right of it in the picture below.

Here is how readers can support this cause.

Visit the Norwood Mural Project – HERE

After we took photos of the Norwood Mural, we traveled to downtown Ensley to see the mural Ukuu completed on the side of the Bethesda Health Center, 321 19th Street Ensley.

Birmingham murals
Ensley mural at the Bethesda Health Center
Birmingham Norwood Mural
Artist Ukuu Tafari at the Ensley Mural, photo by Pat Byington
Ensley Birmingham
Ensley mural at night

The mural is dedicated to Ukuu’s  grandmother who started one of the first black women owned  businesses in Ensley.

“The mural in Ensley is dedicated to my Granny.  She had a wig shop. She made dresses. She sold gospel music. After my grandfather died, she took care of seven children.  She ran her business with such grace. Incredible woman,” concluded Ukuu.

The words Ensley Alive on the mural signifies hope and community.

Both murals do just that.  They provide hope and community, all interwoven through the life of it creator Ukuu Tafari.

 

Author: Pat Byington

Longtime conservationist. Former Executive Director at the Alabama Environmental Council and Wild South. Publisher of the Bama Environmental News for more than 18 years. Career highlights include playing an active role in the creation of Alabama's Forever Wild program, Little River Canyon National Preserve, Dugger Mountain Wilderness, preservation of special places throughout the East through the Wilderness Society and the strengthening (making more stringent) the state of Alabama's cancer risk and mercury standards.