MISSOURI CITY, Texas - Black History Month month kicks off Friday in Missouri City.
The events focus on highlighting important contributions of African-Americans in U.S. history and how leaders locally and nationally have made moves to affect their communities.
The city asked one nationally renowned local African-American artist to paint a mural, highlighting a key moment of history, which will live at City Hall for decades to come.
"I'm just grateful for this opportunity. I'm a resident here. They recognized that I live here, that I was part of all this and they drew me in to do the painting," said Missouri City artist Leonard Freeman.
Freeman has been working for months to paint a mural that would be revealed at Missouri City's Black History Month celebration.
"We talked about the Freedom Tree. He was immediately drawn to the idea and said there's so much to tell," said Missouri City Manager Anthony Stipes, the first African-American city manager in Missouri City's history.
Freeman called the mural “The Freedom Tree & Diversity.”
"In 1865, the Emancipation Proclamation was read to the slaves on a plantation here [in Missouri City]," said Freeman. “It was a moment that set people free. I wanted to focus on the history of the tree.”
To this day, that tree stands along Misty Hollow Drive, about 3 miles from where Freeman lives.
"Because of that reading and the freeing of those slaves and it also freed their masters from the indignity and the blight of slavery, they were able to start moving forward and accept other people into the community," said Freeman.
His painting stands 10 feet tall. Brown, black and green strokes make up the carefully painted tree. Near the roots are faces of people from all walks of life.
"We have people from every community, every ethnic group, every cultural group," said Freeman, who was very proud of the city's diversity.
He said people underestimate the power of images.
“I paint a message of worth and value that people can see, I paint images that give a positive message, that is lasting and has virtue,” said Freeman. "I've seen a lot of negative images of black men."
He said his goal is to show positive images.
Missouri City Kicks off Black History Month tonight at City Hall, coming up @ 5 only on 2 -- a first look at this artist's masterpieces--one of which will be a 10 foot mural that will be shown at City Hall for decades to come -- #BlackHistoryMonth @KPRC2 pic.twitter.com/hRTiO1xYyF — Rose-Ann Aragon KPRC (@RAragonKPRC2) February 9, 2018
"We all have problems seeing each other the way we should see each other, and we react because we're humans. We react sometimes in good ways and sometimes in not so good ways," said Freeman. "But these things have an effect on you when you live it, and I've seen a lot of negative imagery, especially about black men. So I paint images that show a sense of virtue -- a sense of goodness. All humans have all properties in them, bad and good, but it's my purpose to show good imagery that hangs on a wall hung in some way, but you're being affected by it."
He said his faith guides him to inspire others with his work. He said he hopes that all people who see the mural will be uplifted.
"Togetherness, comfort with each other, not feeling alienated, feeling accepted, feeling that they have worth and value, that their children have a chance," said Freeman.
Freeman's art is featured on the walls of the community center. This mural will be proudly showcased on the wall of City Hall for decades to come.
"The painting will be a fixture in City Hall's lobby. It won't be going down any time soon," said Stipes. "It's an opportunity for people to come to City Hall and reflect on the rich diversity that Missouri City is known for."
Missouri City's Black History Month celebration will be held at the community center near City Hall Friday, Feb. 9, from 6-10 p.m.
Saturday's celebratory events will take place from 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. It will includes a step show, local artists, live music and a special visit from renowned rapper Travis Scott. He will be presented a key to the city at 2 p.m.
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