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‘We are inheriting this world’

Photo by Allayana Darrow | Truth to Power club members began work Thursday at Ashland High School on a mural honoring eight influential people of color with ties to the community.
AHS students begin work on mural celebrating influential people of color

Facing a drab concrete wall at Ashland High School on Thursday, Isa Martinez Moore scraped off the last remnants of a “white power” symbol someone posted on the wall two years ago and prepared to prime the space for a new mural honoring eight influential people of color with ties to the community.

Martinez Moore, 18, is an AHS graduate and lead artist on a mural project organized by the Truth to Power club to memorialize murder victim Aidan Ellison, celebrate people of color and inspire discussion about race in the Rogue Valley.

Martinez Moore brings a background studying portraiture, color theory, paint technique and anatomy to the project.

Ashland City Council approved the mural project Aug. 3. The Public Arts Commission has also approved the project, which is slated for completion by November.

A mural proposal shows seven rectangular portraits of one size, and a larger circular portrait of Ellison, woven together across 171 feet with paths of color against the gray concrete backdrop of the North Mountain Avenue-facing wall.

The mural will include a display describing the individuals represented, to “educate viewers and deepen the impact of the art,” Martinez Moore said. Those to be honored include:

  • Winona LaDuke, an AHS alum, Indigenous environmentalist, economist, activist and author enrolled with the Ojibwe Nation of Minnesota, was the first Green Party candidate to obtain an electoral vote for vice president.
  • Walidah Imarisha, a Black writer, activist, educator and spoken word poet, presented a program at Pacific University in February focused on the “hidden history” that answers the question: “Why aren’t there more Black people in Oregon?”
  • Raised in Ashland, Tehlor Kay Mejia is a first-generation Mexican American and LGBTQ author.
  • Lawson Fusao Inada, a Japanese-American poet, was the fifth Oregon poet laureate and a former Southern Oregon University instructor.
  • Agnes Baker Pilgrim, known as “Grandma Aggie,” an Indigenous spiritual leader from the Takelma and Siletz tribes in Grants Pass, co-founded the International Council of 13 Indigenous Grandmothers in 2004 and served as council chair for more than a decade.
  • AHS alum and civil rights lawyer Michelle Alexander wrote “The New Jim Crow,” a bestseller focused on a national debate about racial and criminal justice in the U.S.
  • Ashland City Councilor Gina DuQuenne founded Southern Oregon Pride, and is the first openly queer Black woman to be elected to the council.
  • AHS alum Aidan Ellison’s portrait depicts the 19-year-old in a blue hoodie — his dark hair defined by a bright orange background and lion silhouette at his shoulder.

Martinez Moore said Ellison’s portrait took twice as long to design as the others. They went through numerous sketches, poses, colors and about 12 hours of work before settling on an image they felt captured Ellison’s memory.

“It was the hardest for me, not because the technique was any different, but because of how emotional it was to portray him and how much I wanted it to do him justice,” Martinez Moore said.

The mural location and size ensures visibility by youth, adults, school theater-goers and anyone who uses the road, they said.

“Every artist wants their work to be visible, but for this it’s so much more to me, because I want this message to be visible. I want it to be something you can’t look away from,” they said.

Truth to Power club member Isadora Millay, 15, was thrilled to see the initial stages of the project begin Thursday after six months of planning. Her vision for the project is one of inclusivity, welcoming and vibrance.

“[This project] shows that we can do it,” Millay said. “It’s not something that is left up to the adults. We are inheriting this world and we can make the change and make it the world that we want it to be.”

Working with Ellison’s mother to ensure she felt comfortable with the image was a rewarding part of the project, Millay said, as stories about her son contributed to the mural design and the club’s overall sense of connection to Aidan.

Reach reporter Allayana Darrow at adarrow@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4497.