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Englewood, Chatham

Englewood Artist Creates West Chatham Mural To Highlight Community Heroes And Inspire Youth

Joe "Cujodah" Nelson's new mural project will feature famous people from Chatham, like gospel singer Mahalia Jackson.

A new mural project in West Chatham will honor hometown heroes of the past.
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CHATHAM — A huge mural is coming to West Chatham to honor the neighborhood’s illustrious past.

Englewood-based artist Joe “Cujodah” Nelson is heading the community mural project, Art In Chatham, which was commissioned by Walmart. It will be unveiled at the international retailer’s recently renovated location, 8300 S. Stewart Ave., when the weather permits it, Nelson said.

Nelson, who recently wrapped up a mural project with the Englewood Arts Collective, started the project by asking Chatham residents what they wanted to see. He wanted to connect with locals — but had to find new ways of doing that due to the pandemic, so he made a website with a survey.

“Because of COVID, we’ve been forced to rethink how we engage with the community. We couldn’t gather to sit down and have a regular conversation like we did before, so I developed the website to query neighborhood members,” the Lake View High School alumnus said.

Teen volunteers from My Block, My Hood, My City helped Nelson prime 16 panels for the project.

The multiple-choice questionnaire garnered dozens of responses, with residents suggesting ideas for everything from the mural’s color palette to its theme and who should be featured. Nelson took all of the feedback and transformed it into 16 13-foot panels.

The panels’ artwork features notable Chatham residents, like famed gospel singer Mahalia Jackson, jurist R. Eugene Pincham and late congressman Charles Hayes.

While it isn’t the biggest project Nelson’s ever done, it’s the been a labor of love. The panels were so huge he enlisted volunteers from My Block, My Hood, My City — and several friends — to set them up in his studio.

“My knees have been getting a workout,” joked Nelson, who crouched for hours painting each panel.

For Nelson, the project isn’t just about recognizing Chatham’s storied past. It’s about rejecting the current narrative about the neighborhood and laying a foundation for its future.

“I just want to focus on our young people and give them something to guide them in the right direction. You have the opportunity to do whatever you want to do, to be whoever you want to be,” Nelson said.

A trio of volunteers from My Block, My Hood, My City prepare the panels for Nelson.

Ald. Howard Brookins (21st) praised the project at a recent ward town hall meeting, thanking Nelson for his efforts to amplify the beauty and character of the community.

“The alderman and other stakeholders have been a really great help, and I really appreciate them. Brookins, the Southeast Chamber of Commerce … I’ve been trying to do my due diligence to make sure people know what’s going on,” Nelson said.

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