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Media Island International Celebrates Black Excellence Through Downtown Murals
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Media Island International Celebrates Black Excellence Through Downtown Murals

Written by Heidi Smith

Shawna Hawk has noticed a trend. Whenever any tragedy involving people of color attracts national attention, images and artwork will appear - for a time. But once the public focus has moved on, those representations disappear. Often, they are rooted in black trauma and pain rather than a celebration of excellence. 

Hawk decided to change that. Now, Olympia residents can enjoy large murals of acclaimed actor and activist Chadwick Boseman along with full-size depictions of Orisha, deities venerated by the Yoruba people in West Africa.

“My concern is that the majority of the black presence in Olympia is around negative black trauma, pain, death and loss,” says Hawk, the Executive Director of Media Island International, a cultural educational and networking center designed to support the leadership goals and aspirations of women of color. “Our organization wants to focus on African-American resilience, strength and contributions to the community and the country as a whole.” Hawk is also the founder of the Women of Color in Leadership Movement.

Media Island International offers consulting, mediation, workshops, and cultural event planning focused on racial justice, equity and inclusion. The center includes a social justice library, a radio station that is home to the WCLM podcast (formerly KOWA), meeting space and a commercial kitchen.

When Chadwick Boseman passed from cancer, Hawk had the idea of honoring him through a mural. “It was a dedication to his life, as an activist and an actor who thought it was important to represent well-rounded portrayals of black excellence,” she says. Boseman famously played such groundbreaking real-life characters as Jackie Robinson, James Brown and Justice Thurgood Marshall as well as the fictional Black Panther, one of the first black superheroes. 

During the pandemic, a self-taught local artist named Eva Bender volunteered to create large murals of the Orisha. One wall features powerful female Orishas and the other, their male counterparts. “She did a really good job,” says Hawk. “I gave her the vision of what I would like the mural to be, and she took the time to understand the importance of what these images represent.” 

A Breonna Taylor mural next to the words ‘Say Her Name’ serves a different function: calling attention to violence against black women and girls. “These movements often focus just on black men,” Hawk notes. “We wanted to bring attention to black femicide, not only at the hands of police but also through violence from men in their communities. There is a particular type of misogyny aimed at black women.” 

Hawk hopes that Media Island International will impact the way Olympians perceive themselves and each other. “I grew up in Hawaii,” she says. “When I was a little girl, I was one of the few black kids in every scenario. I know what it means to see other black people doing something that I might not have thought I could do. That can totally change someone’s life.” 

She would also like to see more natural inclusion of black-led businesses and organizations, especially those led by black women. As the cultural center expands, she hopes that more of the community will visit to understand its purpose and how they can get involved. 

 

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