Breanna Reeves |

In November 2019, Rochelle Kanatzar posted on Facebook expressing sadness for her nine-year-old daughter who experienced a jarring racial encounter at school that brought her daughter to tears.

“I shared my daughter’s experience because I wanted to show everyone that, yeah, in fact, we do have [racism] here. And my nine-year-old daughter has experienced it. And she went to school one way and came back a little bit different because of that experience,” Rochelle said.

After sharing her daughter’s encounter, Erin Maroufkhani reached out to Rochelle to discuss how they could take action and show Edison Rose, Rochelle’s daughter, and the community of Riverside, that “Black is beautiful.”

Together, Rochelle, Erin and Shea Ellis organized the idea for the RISE! mural, a mosaic depiction of thirty plus African American portraits who have contributed to the Black community throughout history. The mural was unveiled in Riverside on July 21 and is one of the largest public art installations in the city.

The mural’s name is inspired by Maya Angelou’s celebrated and widely respected,  “Still I Rise” poem, Edison Rose’s favorite poem. The death of George Floyd, Edison’s experience, and the poem served as the focal points for the mural’s design and inspiration. During the ceremony, Edison Rose read the poem before the mural was revealed.

Edison Rose reading “Still I Rise” during the unveiling ceremony for the RISE! Mural on Wednesday, July 21, 2021 in Riverside, CA. (Photo by Michael J. Elderman)

“Tonight we’re here to unveil a magnificent piece of art that both honors and supports another step of diversity, inclusion and education for our community,” Shea said in her welcome speech during the ceremony.

For Shea, her contribution to the mural was done “as a personal acknowledgement of what was happening in the world.” The mural includes portraits of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Elijah McCain in recognition of the Black lives taken in 2020.

“And for us, our focal point was George Floyd because we felt that in his tragic death, it was the catalyst for the world to kind of open their eyes to the injustices that African American people face and that Black lives do, in fact, matter,” Rochelle said.

The mosaic mural is the artistic production of 14 artists and took a little over a year to plan, design and complete. Due to the pandemic, artists were unable to collaborate in person, so instead they received a box of mosaic materials and relied on Youtube tutorials to complete their portraits. The mural was supported by the city of Riverside who provided funding for the mural and by a local tile company who donated mosaic materials.

Artists who contributed to the mosaic mural pose together on stage before unveiling the RISE! Mural on Wednesday, July 21, 2021 in Riverside, CA. (Photo by Michael J. Elderman)

One of the contributing artists is Adeola Davies-Aiyeloja who created mosaic portraits of Maya Angelou, Rosa Parks and Amanda Gorman. Adeola’s first portrait was Maya Angelou because a lot of Angelou’s poems resonate with her.

“[I’m)] also so proud to have something that represents so many of the African Americans in the city of Riverside. I can’t describe the feeling. It’s overwhelming, just the feeling,” Adeola said. “What I hope that they will take away from it is the openness, and really to look at the different portraits and look at the contributions.”

Adeola was surprised and excited to see her own family in the crowd during the unveiling. Her nephew came and brought his children to see the mural and the different figures portrayed in the art. She hopes that parents of all ethnicities will bring their children to see the mural and teach them that Black history is American history.

“It’s really a springboard for them to be able to open their kids’ eyes and say, ‘These are people that made history, these are people that contributed to history and the African American community, but also in the American community because they are Americans. And we should look at everybody’s contributions,’” Adeola explained.

Alongside the mural a plaque will be placed which will contain a QR code that will allow passersby to scan the code and learn more information about the people in the mural by providing resources, videos and reading materials. Rochelle also hopes that teachers will be able to use the mural as a way to develop curriculum around Black history.

Rochelle and her daughter, Edison Rose, applaud speakers during the unveiling ceremony on Wednesday July 21, 2021 in Riverside, CA. (Photo by Michael J. Elderman)

“We’re excited about the aspect of the mural being interactive. We encourage and want people who pass by to touch and feel the mural in its uniqueness. Each of us are unique tiles in of itself,” Rochelle said. “And when we’re put together and we come together, look how much more beautiful we are and so we hope that be the takeaway from individuals who engage in the mural, that they see just how amazing and beautiful Black is.”

The mural can be viewed on the corner of Market Street and 9th Street in Downtown Riverside.

Breanna Reeves is a reporter in Riverside and uses data-driven reporting to cover issues that affect the lives of Black Californians. Breanna joins Black Voice News as a Report for America Corps member. Previously, Breanna reported on activism and social inequality in San Francisco and Los Angeles, her hometown. Breanna graduated from San Francisco State University with a bachelor’s degree in Print & Online Journalism. She received her master’s degree in Politics and Communication from the London School of Economics. Contact Breanna with tips, comments or concerns at breanna@voicemediaventures.com or via twitter @_breereeves.

Lead image: The final mosaic mural was unveiled on Wednesday July 21 in Riverside, CA. (Photo by Michael J. Elderman)