Africatown is a historic community located three miles north of downtown Mobile, Alabama. It was formed by a group of 32 West Africans, who in 1860 were included in the last known illegal shipment of slaves to the United States on the Clotilda. These people founded their own community in what became Africatown and retained their West African customs and language into the 1950s. The Africatown Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2012.
Under the direction of local artist Soynika Edwards-Bush, middle school members of the Boys & Girls Clubs of South Alabama designed and painted this beautiful painting. Soynika Edwards-Bush is a mother, wife, instructor, and artist passionate about her community and helping others. Over the years, the self-taught artist has used her craft as a tool to uplift her community and inspire others. Her most notable projects include creating murals for the city Prichard and the 2019 Festival of Flowers in collaboration with the Mobile Arts Council and the Strickland Youth Center. Bush was also instrumental in designing a Black Lives Matter Chalk Mural in coordination with the Black Life Arts and Culture Coalition (BLACC), a subcommittee of the Alabama Contemporary Art Center where she serves as artist in residence.
Her passion for the arts and her community allows her to work with Legacy 166 and the Boys & Girls Clubs of South Alabama, where she works as an art instructor teaching youth and teens at various Clubs throughout Mobile. Edwards-Bush encourages self-expression in her classes. “I don’t teach art. I cultivate art,” Edwards-Bush says. “I want the kids to use their imagination and simply paint,” Edwards says.
She further explains that the students learn at their own pace. Her goal is to expose them to different kinds of art and music and usher them into that safe space to create. “We can always learn the technical stuff, and I just want them to start experimenting with paint colors, thinking outside of the box, and have fun creating.”
She uses the same concept of self-expression when working with her students on the Africatown Project. What began as a project for an art contest sponsored by Boys & Girls Clubs of America has blossomed into a movement that’s inspired youth and teens to learn more about their community and its unique history.
This project gave them time to reflect and learn more about the area where they live. “We talked about the drawing and what message was trying to convey,” Bush says.
Jeremiah Wright, a 7th grader at MCTS, says he selected some of the bold colors in the painting. He also worked on the letter “T,” with a background filled with drawings of churches and homes in the community. The letter “C” includes a sketch drawing showing cables and part of a bridge. “My drawings show churches and a bridge. The churches represent the community’s religious beliefs,” Wright says. “I know they depended on the church a lot, and they were praying not to be slaves.” He also mentions he wants to be an engineer but hasn’t ruled out learning more about visual arts.
Zaneta Derks, a 7th grader at MCTS, also helped with the painting. “I worked on the grass and the water in the painting,” Derks says. “The water represents the Mobile River, and the grass represents the landscape in the community.”
Additionally, the bright red colors and the letters spell “Africatown,” with each letter depicting something about the region, whether it’s the landscape, waterways, churches, homes, school bridge, and people in the community, according to Edwards-Bush.
“This project is an opportunity for them to share with others their history and take pride in the community where they live,” Bush says.
Youth are facing several challenges and distractions, Bush mentions. She encourages the community to rally behind them and support those trying to make a difference. “Painting is an opportunity to get their hands dirty, nix the technology, relax, use your imagination, and create. Give them paint. Give them brushes and the freedom to CREATE.”
This artwork is copyrighted by the U.S. Copyright Office for the Boys & Girls Clubs of South Alabama. The original painting has been photographed and applied to a variety of items available for purchase through our Africatown Shop. 100% of the profits from the sale of these items will fund camp and educational experiences for any youth who live or attend school in the greater Africatown community.