The next time you drive through the Historic West End, you’ll see the unmistakable work of painter, muralist and designer Jamil Dyair Steele.
“I grew up in this area, and I am a West Charlotte alumni,” said a smiling Steele. “I’m from Charlotte and I used to go up and down this corridor a lot and walk into the barbershop as a kid.”
The City of Charlotte recently completed a pedestrian plaza and multi-use trail at the W. Trade/I-77 underpass (exit 10) in the Historic West End.
The city invited local artists to submit a concept to complete a mural on the retaining wall on either side of the underpass.
Steele’s composition was selected for his talent and having an appreciation and in-depth knowledge of the history and culture of the area.
“I wanted to make sure I captured what I remember as a kid growing up seeing as I walked around the neighborhood.”
The mural is divided into two sections.
The east side of the wall starts with a depiction of a young boy reflecting on the dynamic, forward-moving atmosphere of the modern-day West End corridor.
The west side of the wall starts with an image of a young girl who reflects on the area’s rich history.
“The project was intended to capture the history and essence of the community. Charlotte has gone through a lot of changes, a lot of gentrification is happening and I want to preserve the history and what originated here,” he said.
Like most of his work, Steele wants his installations to function as a mirror, identifying a truth about the community while paving the way for positive change. Community growth and dialogue are a main component of his art.
“When kids come down to see it, I want them to understand that there’s a legacy in this area that they need to know about and that they should be knowledgeable about,” he said.
Steele said he chose Black youth as the main figures to emphasize the importance of knowing one’s own culture, heritage and lineage.
“As an African American teacher, I want Black youth to see themselves reflected in a mural about the historic Biddleville community,” he said. “I also want them to see that education has been and will always be (a) staple in communities of color.”
Studies show that media images have a distinct impact on perceptions of Black people and culture.
“It’s important for everyone that lives in the city to feel like they’re represented and that they can see themselves and reflected in because we are such a diverse city,” he said.
Steele’s work creates a fuller and more accurate portrayal in his productions and will likely continue to work to embed positive representation in the Black community.
“This is a historically African American side of town and I really wanted to honor that legacy. I just want to have a small little token of Charlotte and capture that history,” Steele said.
He started the nearly 200-foot-long project on Dec. 20, and he estimates it will take 3-4 months to complete.
“This is becoming an up-and-coming area and it’s nothing like it was before, but there are also a lot of opportunities for artists to grow and to come out into the community,” he said. “It’s not just artists but all people in this community who can make it even better.”
With all the challenges facing our community, it is obvious that he will stay in place for as long as it takes, working and serving every day to improve the community.
If you have an inspiring story to share, email Kevin Campbell, WSOC-TV/WAXN-TV/Telemundo Charlotte public affairs manager, at Kevin.Campbell@wsoctv.com.
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