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Along U Street yesterday, a moveable railing blocked the alley next to Ben’s Chili Bowl with a handwritten sign bearing the Punisher skull that clearly warned against entering.
It seemed more like an invitation. Just beyond it, the giant artwork by local muralist Aniekan Udofia was coming alive with the visages of more than a dozen current and historical African-American personalities from D.C. and beyond.
The old school is represented in Marion Barry, Chuck Brown, Dick Gregory, Gladys Knight, Prince, Donnie Simpson, and Jim Vance. But there are more contemporary figures as well: the rapper Wale, actress Taraji Henson, and comedian Dave Chappelle. Others featured include former President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, local radio personality Russ Parr, abolitionist and Union spy Harriet Tubman, and boxing champion and activist Muhammad Ali.
Everyone looked crisp and clean with the exception of Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, whom a Department of Public Works employee agreed was in need of a little touch up.
Until earlier this year, the mugs of President Obama, Donnie Simpson, Chuck Brown, and Bill Cosby graced the wall. After much consideration and pressure from the community, Cosby was unceremoniously removed in light of the many sexual abuse allegations against him. In January, the mural was buffed and replaced with a temporary one of the Wizards’ House of Guards, John Wall and Bradley Beal.
Those depicted for the new mural were selected through a democratic process that drew more than 30,000 online votes from all over the world, according to Ben’s. A Murals DC staffer on the scene said the mural will stay in place for at least the next five years.
Tomorrow’s unveiling ceremony will begin at noon and go to 7 p.m. in the alley at 1213 U Street NW.
Ben’s Facebook page promises “special guests.” Maybe some of those shown on the new mural? We’ll have to wait and see.