Fulfilling a promise
The Truth to Power Club at Ashland High School has dedicated a mural to eight people of color who have helped shape the community, and fulfilled the club’s “Promise to Aidan” with a celebratory event and ceremony on the anniversary of Aidan Ellison’s murder.
Community members gathered around the 171-foot mural facing Mountain Avenue for an event featuring live music, spoken word, speeches and performances, marking completion of a six-month student-led project dedicated to celebrating people of color, inspiring discussion about race in the Rogue Valley and memorializing Ellison.
Robert Keegan, a 47-year-old white man, is accused of shooting Ellison during a Nov. 23, 2020, dispute over loud music in the parking lot of the Stratford Inn in Ashland. Keegan has reportedly claimed he shot in self-defense.
Keegan pleaded not guilty to murder in the second degree and manslaughter in the first degree, and misdemeanor charges of reckless endangering and illegally possessing a firearm. A trial readiness hearing has been set for Feb. 24, 2022, with a 12-person jury trial scheduled to begin Feb. 28, assigned to Judge Timothy Barnack.
Since Ellison’s death, activists, community groups and allies have rallied around his name in calls to address the effects of internalized white supremacy, energize future change-makers and reconstruct a social and political framework founded in equity and justice.
For the Truth to Power Club, the mural affirms the club’s commitment to antiracism “in words and actions,” and offers the community a constant reminder, gathering place and evergreen promise to do better as a community, club leaders said.
The last bits of paint were brushed just the day before the event — lead mural artist Isa Martinez Moore touched up the borders and added extra layers to cement Aidan’s image.
“It’s so many feelings, it’s hard to commit to even just one,” Martinez Moore said Tuesday. “I’m happy, I’m sad, I’m moved — feeling all of that at once, and it’s having to recognize that I can feel so proud and so happy while also so devastated still.”
The event coincided with the club’s release of its latest podcast episode, “Southern Oregon’s Racist History,” which takes a close look at the state’s history of racial violence, Ellison’s death and community activism.
“As current members of the community, it is important that we reflect on this history and recognize that we still have a long way to go to create a more racially aware and BIPOC-friendly community,” according to the podcast team.
Over the course of the project, led by club presidents Isadora Millay and Anya Moore, and faculty advisor Shane Abrams, the mural team secured approval for the public art from the Ashland School District, Public Arts Commission and Ashland City Council.
For Martinez Moore, the mural project “solidified” the planned pursuit of art and activism through higher education and career goals.
The day they returned to work on the mural to find graffiti surrounding portrait spaces, the club leaned into its goal to complete the mural and keep the attention on its positive meaning, they said.
“It was inspiring how many people came to scrub graffiti off a wall,” Martinez Moore said. “It was uplifting in the end; it stayed with the message of this mural, which is making something beautiful out of something difficult.”
Ellison’s mother, Andrea, greeted by warm hugs from students and a bouquet of flowers, thanked the community before cutting the ribbon marking the mural’s dedication Tuesday.
“I just want to say, Ashland, I really appreciate all your support and recognition with Aidan ... and at least finally I can keep him at school,” she chuckled. “Thank you so much and hey, peace and blessings.”
The mural features seven rectangular portraits of one size, a larger circular portrait of Ellison, and plaques describing the accomplishments of each individual depicted:
- 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.
- 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.
- Agnes Baker Pilgrim, also known as “Grandma Aggie,” a Native American elder from the Takelma tribe, is honored for her work with the Indian Health Service, reviving the annual Salmon Ceremony on the Rogue River, and her contributions in public health and environmental activism.
- 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.
“It has been months and months of planning, sketching, drawing, painting and spending time really pouring my soul into this wall,” Martinez Moore said. “The challenges, although difficult and hard, such as the paint spills and vandalism, have made me a more whole, rounded person at the end of it and really certified why this mural was so needed.”
Reach reporter Allayana Darrow at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-776-4497.