The painting is part of the broader Black History Matters project, which will unveil 28 murals around Phoenix that honor Black-History heroes over February’s 28 days.

By Gina Mizell

Eli Farias pulls out a brush and dips it in white paint, then begins to fill in the letter “N” of the phrase “Say Her Name.”Eventually, Skylar Diggins pops from the wall. In the portrait, the Mercury star is wearing a shirt with the phrase used to amplify Black women who have been victims of police brutality.

To Diggins’ left is Brianna Turner, wearing a “Black Lives Matter” shirt. To the right, Chris Paul is wearing a “Support Black Colleges” hoodie, Monty Williams a pullover with a “Coaches for Racial Justice” patch and Jevon Carter a sweatshirt with a series of phrases including “Black Hope” and “Black Pain.” The recognizable Suns and Mercury figures are leading a group of marchers, fists raised, in front of the Phoenix skyline.

The mural located near 1st Street and Jefferson on the West side of Phoenix Suns Arena depicts the Suns’ and Mercury’s social-justice efforts while playing in last summer’s league Bubbles and living during a time of civil unrest. The painting is part of the broader Black History Matters project, which will unveil 28 murals around Phoenix that honor Black-History heroes over February’s 28 days.

“The Phoenix Suns are a huge staple in our community,” Farias said. “Sometimes people just see them as entertainment, but it’s more than entertainment. These are leaders in the community. We watch these leaders on television on a daily basis. …

“For them to take a stand, it really shows that they’re supporting the community that they play in, the community that supports them. That’s huge for a great, thriving community like downtown Phoenix. I recognize it, and I’m so grateful for the organization putting forth the effort to allow us the space.”

The Black History Matters mural project is spearheaded by Gizette Knight, the CEO of Reality Dreams LLC, an organization that provides resources to marginalized communities. She said she created the concept as a way to use art, a natural unifier, to broaden the collection of impactful people celebrated during Black History Month.“It was always the same figures (celebrated while I was growing up),” Knight said. “For me, I just had a sense, a feeling, that there was more to us than just our icon Martin Luther King, our icon Rosa parks, our icon, our icon and historian Harriet Tubman.

“So, for me, I had to do research, and that’s when I discovered that our history is complex. It’s rich.”

The Suns and Mercury mural representatives were chosen with purpose.

Paul’s portrait was inspired by a march he led to an early-voting site at Winston Salem State University, the HBCU where he recently enrolled in classes. Williams penned an open later expressing his pain, anger and fear following the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery. Turner, the daughter of a mother and father who both serve in law enforcement, publicly offered important perspective throughout the WNBA season. Diggins was part of the “More than a Vote” initiative and teamed up with rapper Yo Gotti to send a letter urging the U.S. Attorney General to press charges in a racial hate crime that occurred in her home state in Indiana. Carter spoke his mind while the Suns played in Orlando, and wore “Respect Us” on the back of his jersey.

A team of local artists brought the mural’s vision to life over the course of three days. They diagrammed a 13 x 10 grid to use as a blueprint for the collection of portraits. They meticulously painted every element from eyes to fingers. When artist Lucretia Torva finished painting Paul, she admired how his blue sweatshirt popped — and how his face illuminated hope.

“It gets to a place where you can start recognizing this individual, and even more so, you can start seeing the essence of this individual and that character,” Farias said. “… We can capture what somebody looks like, but the key is to capture the essence, the energy, the vibration.”

The project has been personally fulfilling to Farias. And when people walk past the mural, he hopes they will initially be awe-struck by its color and beauty, then inspired by the Suns and Mercury leaders depicted.

“We live in a very interesting climate right now,” Farias said, “where, I think, it’s important (to realize) that we all have a slice of power, and we can do our best to just use that power to the best of our ability to make change. …

“We just want to make positive imagery and make the world a little bit of a better place while we still have the opportunity. It’s just a great experience when people are able to interact with it — kids in particular. This is what they aspire to be, so let’s paint them in a such a great light and a very humble light and a very vibrant light.”