With a few bold strokes of a paintbrush, cityscape and Southside converge.

Color has taken hold, and faces have begun to emerge.

They are faces that belong to people who have put their mark on Flagstaff and influenced its growth as a city. Their names aren't as known as some people involved in helping Flagstaff become what it has become, but they've had an impact just the same.

From Butler Avenue, motorists have been witnesses to a mural going up on the western wall of the Murdoch Community Center in the Southside neighborhood. So far, four of five faces have been painted. A fifth will be done for a September unveiling -- in time, it is hoped, for the First Friday ArtWalk.

Coral Evans, member of the Southside Community Association Board, said the board worked in partnership with NAU in conducting an assessment of the neighborhood. Out of that assessment came resident recommendations for a mural on the community center. After receiving grant funding from the city and Flagstaff Cultural Partners, the project was possible.

The lead artist and key painter of the mural is Ricardo Guthrie, an assistant professor of ethnic studies at NAU.

"In particular, they (Southside residents) said there were several community leaders who helped build Flagstaff who were pretty much unknown," Guthrie said. Several were involved in creating and running the Dunbar School, which is the current location of the community center.

Five were selected, Guthrie said. Four have been placed on the wall so far:

-- Tildy Anderson, one of the early instructors at the Dunbar School and later at South Beaver School.

-- Paul Laurence Dunbar, poet laureate for African Americans in the early 1900s. He is so well-known that several communities across the country named schools after him, including Flagstaff.

-- Wilson Riles, principal of Dunbar School. He helped desegregate it in 1953, a year before the Brown vs. Board of Education decision paving the way for integrated schools. Riles, a graduate of NAU, also became the superintendent of public instruction for the state of California.

-- Katherine Hickman, a longtime Flagstaff community activist. She is in her 90s and the only one still alive.

The fifth image will be of Joan Dorsey, the first African American stewardess for a major airline, also a Flagstaff resident.

Evans said watching the mural go up has been a thrilling experience.

"My family has been in Southside since the '20s," Evans said. "And we're very proud. You cannot drive past that mural and not have a sense of pride."

Hickman was a preschool teacher of hers, she added.

"I don't think that there's a young adult my age who she wasn't a preschool teacher for, and a role model and a mentor," she said. "The mural depicts the awesome diversity and sense of place Southside has. To see that history reflected on the wall of the Murdoch Center is just awesome."

Deb Harris, president of the Southside Community Association, said, "Every time I drive down Butler, I get so excited to see it."

To see the contributions made by African Americans to the growth of Flagstaff and to prompt questions from people passing by who see the mural are invaluable in building a sense of Southside community, Harris said.

"It takes a lot of people to build a community, and I think they should all be recognized for their contribution," she added.

Guthrie said he started painting in the beginning of June. He works mornings.

"I think we can finish it next month for sure," he said, adding that he would like to invite other artists to join the effort.

Among those who have been tireless in their help are Franklin Willis, who provided needed scaffolding; Corey Begay, NAU graphic arts student and muralist; and James Gallardo, whose grandmother is Hickman.

Plenty of volunteers from the community and NAU have also put in countless hours of help.

Artists and residents interested in lending a hand can call the Murdoch Center at 226-7566, or e-mail outreach@southsidecommunity.us, or just stop by the center.

Larry Hendricks can be reached at 556-2262 or lhendricks@azdailysun.com.

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