Family members of Carmen Velazquez a champion of immigrant rights who lived in Fairmount and Marion during her lifetime, look up at her portrait which appeared over the weekend on the Grant County Resuce Mission. She was one of three women chosen to be painted on promenient building in Marion as part of a project to inspire the community. Staff photo by Jaylan Miller
Family members of Carmen Velazquez a champion of immigrant rights who lived in Fairmount and Marion during her lifetime, look up at her portrait which appeared over the weekend on the Grant County Resuce Mission. She was one of three women chosen to be painted on promenient building in Marion as part of a project to inspire the community. Staff photo by Jaylan Miller
The faces of three “change makers” appeared on two buildings in downtown Marion over the weekend as part of a project to inspire community members.

The portraits of Carmen Velasquez, Billie Holiday and Mae Jemison, three influential Women of Color, are just the beginning. The first three murals of this project were completed this week in Marion.

Community members Torri Williams and Bill Reece, along with Louisville street artist Riley Gregor, plan to bring 100 murals of “change makers” to rural towns across the Midwest.

A change maker, according to Reece, is any person who made a positive impact in their local community and beyond.

Louisville Artist Damon Thompson completed a mural of Velasquez on the Grant County Rescue Mission building.

“This 40 by 20 foot mural that pays tribute to this champion of immigrant rights and tireless advocate of migrant farm workers,” Thompson said.

Velasquez was born in Kansas, where her parents had immigrated to from Mexico in the late 1910s, and moved to Chicago shortly after her birth. After marrying, Velasquez moved to Fairmount, and eventually to Marion.

Cathy Mitchell, Velasquez’s daughter, said her mother suffered from polio as a child and spent time in hospitals, where she received help from nuns and social workers, including Nobel Peace Prize winner Jane Addams.

“She was thrilled to be able to help people because when she was growing up people helped her,” Mitchell said. “It makes a difference.”

Velasquez began working with migrant families in the 1960s and was instrumental in the development of the Associated Migrant Opportunities Services, Inc. Velasquez dedicated her life to helping the migrant community.

“It just took my breath away to see (the mural). It’s just gorgeous,” Mitchell said. “She would never have in her furthest dreams expected something like that.”

While watching Thompson paint the mural, Mitchel said an older couple stopped by and told her that they remembered Velasquez.

“She would have been 100 years old this year if she was still alive,” Mitchell said. “This was most rewarding for us because she did put so much time and effort into this and she just did it on her own.”

Nashville, Tennessee, artist “Never Xtinct” completed a mural of Jazz musician Billie Holiday on the Sender Building, located at 100 S Washington St.

“Strange Fruit,” a song written by Jewish poet Abel Meeropol and made famous by Billie Holiday, was inspired by the photo of the 1930 lynchings of Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith on the Grant County Courthouse Square. The mural was completed on the 91st anniversary of the lynchings.

“For (Billie Holiday) to be in this building today in particular, a couple of blocks from the inspiration for that song, it gives me chills,” Williams said.

Greensboro,North Carolina artist Jenna Rice completed the third mural, also located on the Sender Building, a portrait of Mae Jemison, the first Black woman in space.

Reece said he spent time on the phone with Jemison, who has been an inspiration to him from a young age.

“When she was in elementary school and she told her teachers that she wanted to go into science, they all steered her into nursing because that’s what girls did then. They never became astronauts,” Reece said.

Jemison graduated high school at the age of 16, attended Stanford University, and went to medical school at Cornell University.

“She literally reached for the stars and got there,” Reece said. “We want people who walk by the mural to know that the sky, literally, the sky’s the limit.”

Williams thanked the three artists for coming from all over the U.S. to Marion.

“There’s something beautiful and moving about watching the creative process happen,” Williams said. “Particularly in the area that we are in, you never know what spark has been lit from you guys making this place beautiful.”

According to Reece, 15 communities have reached out to the team about bringing street artists to paint change-makers in their towns.

“It’s getting a lot of momentum right from the very beginning,” Reece said.
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