While most St. Louis residents were looking for ways to beat the heat in July as temperatures hit triple digits, muralist Jamie Bonfiglio spent her summer bathed in it.
Bonfiglio found himself daily in a vacant lot at the corner of College and West Florissant avenues, in full concentration as a basketball player with unyielding eyes and outstretched hands took shape under his brush. A colorful parasol stood between her and the sun, often left unused as she moved from one section of her artwork to another. Cars honked their support as they passed. Neighbors stopped to extend their comments, praise and even gratitude.
Thanks to Bonfiglio, what started as a dilapidated white wall along the West Florissant hallway morphed into a celebration of black power and basketball against an eye-catching lime green backdrop. The mural depicts two players, a man and a woman, each with a ball in their hands; to their left is the skyline of St. Louis. A red, black and green ribbon winds through the mural, culminating in a logo bearing the name of the court’s future team: the Vanguards.
The mural accompanies a brand new state-of-the-art basketball court nearing completion at 4368 College Avenue. Bonfiglio, an Alabama native, says she’s proud of the work she’s done in St. Louis. But she did not work alone.
The outdoor community basketball court is the latest endeavor of the Black Power Blueprint, a joint program of the African People’s Education and Advocacy Fund and Black Star Industries, which aims to cultivate institutions of social, political empowerment and economic “by and for the black community”. in northern St. Louis. To that end, the non-profit organization has carried out a series of renovations and restorations along and around Florissant’s West Corridor, demolishing condemned buildings and rebuilding them to house community-oriented establishments such as a sports hall. banquet, a café, a women’s health center and a public vegetable garden.
“We want [be] capable of bringing commerce back into our community, circulating or owning resources within our community, not just extracting them from the south side of St. Louis,” says Ona Zené Yeshitela, President of the Education Fund and defender of the African people and architect of the Black Power Plan.
According to Yeshitela, the impetus to build a courthouse came from neighborhood children playing improvised games in the surrounding streets, constantly hampered by the limited space and passing cars. Unlike South St. Louis, where parks and recreation facilities abound, few alternatives exist for children and young adults in North St. Louis. Yeshitela hopes to change that.
“It will be a state-of-the-art basketball court like you would see at any park on the south side of St. Louis,” Yeshitela says. “We will organize tournaments for children, bleachers – everything.”
With the court, she also aspires to help close the racial gap in health, targeting disproportionate rates of diabetes, obesity and hypertension among Africans.
“It was really about rebuilding a community and giving kids a sense of pride and a place where they can be healthy – basketball is also about health,” Yeshitela said. She cites communication skills and teamwork as some of the many important non-academic lessons children can learn through recreational sports.
Bonfiglio’s basketball mural marks his second collaboration with the Black Power Blueprint. Its first, a vibrant garden vignette, overlooks the Gary Brooks Community Garden a few blocks away. As a portraitist, Bonfiglio’s favorite aspect in his murals is the people. It’s a feeling that goes beyond the painting itself.
“All the work that this organization does in the community obviously has an impact because people are responding daily, people of all ages,” Bonfiglio says. “It boosts morale, from what I can tell. It’s inspiring people. This gives a sense of pride to the residents of the community.
Yeshitela shares Bonfiglio’s optimism.
“To be able to walk down the street now and see a beautiful mural that they would normally see on the south side of St. Louis – to see it in their own community gives [residents] greatest sense of pride,” Yeshitela says.
The Black Power Blueprint relies almost entirely on contributions from large and small donors, which flow directly to the community through businesses such as 4368 College Avenue, which the organization purchased from the City of St. Louis. He enlisted the help of local contractors and volunteers to raze the property’s dilapidated buildings and install all the features needed for a functioning basketball court, from rubber flooring to electricity for lights and a scoreboard. . When it opens in late August, the community courtyard will have taken several months and $145,000 to build.
“It was a real labor of love,” says Kitty Reilly, Projects Coordinator for the Black Power Blueprint.
The name of the home ground team, the Vanguards, is one that Yeshitela is both proud and confident of.
“We just want to instill dignity and pride in our children,” Yeshitela says, nodding at the proud faces staring at Bonfiglo’s mural. “It’s not just basketball. It is something much bigger than that.