Forklift materials help bring the spirit of the Frederick Douglass Bicentennial to the Anacostia Community

Hi Forklift Fans!

As we wrap up Black History Month, we want to share an amazing mural project that was recently completed as a part of the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site’s celebration of Douglass’ birthday. Led by local journalist and historian, John Muller, the project sought to create a mural installation that involves the local community and brings the spirit of the Frederick Douglass Bicentennial to the streets he walked and neighborhood he called home. 

The mural depicts an illustration of Frederick Douglass with other historical figures. Children and animals from the modern-day community stand next to these historical greats while near the Anacostia River. The words “Spread Southside Love” flows over the historic figures. The mural is located on 16th & W Street SE in Old Historic Anacostia, a block away from Frederick Douglass’ Cedar Hill House.

John Muller, a local journalist and historian in Anacostia, originally reached out to Forklift in search of drop cloths, tarps, and scaffolding for the project he was leading to commemorate the Frederick Douglass Bicentennial and Anacostia Park Centennial. He was excited to instead find other materials, such as our “oops” paint and eco-friendly Amazon Paint  which were used to paint the base of the mural for the ground and rolling green surface of Cedar Hill.

Community members played a part in creating the mural.

John’s knowledge and involvement in the Anacostia community inspired to him lead this mural project, since the community had been discussing the need for a beautification project for some time. In addition to covering the community for nearly a decade through a variety of online and print media outlets, John is also very well informed on the topic of Frederick Douglass, having written a book about Douglass’ final years in Washington, D.C.

Working alongside John was Rebeka Ryvola; the artist and co-creator behind the mural. Rebeka is an illustrator, based out of Boulder, Colorado and Washington, D.C, who works with mixed media through which she enjoys “shifting perspective, lending voice, prompting discourse, and bringing beauty into the world.”  We asked her to explain a little more about how the mural evolved:

“Douglass said, ‘It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.’ The mural concept was co-created with John, who thought it would be interesting to feature some other historical figures affiliated with Douglass in the mural, of whom he knew a great deal. When I started sketching, the scene that appeared was a garden party with abolitionist John Brown, journalist Grace Greenwood, Civil Rights leader Ida Wells, first African American Harvard grad Richard Greener, and Blanche Bruce, who was the first black senator to serve a full term. The space around these historical greats became filled in with children and animals from the community, some playing baseball, one serenading with a violin, an instrument that Douglass played. When I sent the concept to John for feedback he was elated to see it, explaining that it was a spot-on depiction of literary salons that Douglass used to host on the back lawn of his Cedar Hill house. Now this party is celebrating the lively community of Anacostia that resides just one block away from that very house. Now these figures bring their revolutionary presence to the kids of the neighborhood, encouraging learning, curiosity, and exploration of their world and their ability to deconstruct any barriers, real or imagined, that prevent them from achieving their grandest dreams. -Artist Rebeka Ryvola

Rebeka (right) with Nettie Washington Douglass, an anti-trafficking activist and Frederick Douglass’ great granddaughter.

Before being commissioned for the mural, Rebeka focused on studying global environmental and social challenges – earning a Bachelor of Science Degree in Global Resource Systems and Master’s Degrees in Environmental Management from the University of British Columbia and Yale University. According to Rebeka, she has always been artistic, and although she didn’t initially know how to connect art to her studies, she eventually came to realize she could combine both of her strong interests – all thanks to her supportive classmates in grad school.

“Some incredibly brilliant, bold, out-of-the-boxes classmates and a creative academic environment finally proved to me that art could play an important and valuable in opening eyes, changing hearts and minds, and uniting individuals, across communities, nations, and the world. Once I started to bring art into my studies and then my post-grad jobs, I couldn’t stop. I’ve conducted art workshops in Lebanon with Syrian and Lebanese Youth, and in Texas with unaccompanied migrant minors from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. I’ve led creative programming and illustrated for organizations including the World Bank, the Red Cross, and the White House, as well as publications of all kinds. Murals are new for me, but with this project I’m quite hooked.” -Rebeka Ryvola

Rebeka was inspired to become involved with the mural project because of Frederick Douglass’ historical significance. She feels he “continues to inspire so many, irrespective of race, age, or background, to this day. And the location of the mural, Anacostia in DC’s southeast, grapples more visibly than most places with the challenges Douglass worked so hard to address.” For her, the mural was a great “opportunity to explore the history of Frederick Douglass while engaging with the Anacostia community,” a project “100% in line” with her values.

Forklift is honored to have played a part in such a meaningful project that impacted so many in our community. Not only did the mural bring the Anacostia community together, it also received lots of attention from local and national press – The Washington Informer, Philadelphia Daily Tribune, and ABC7, to name a few. 

The project’s GoFundMe account is still active. Any funds donated will help cover the costs of the muralist’s design time and labor, in addition to the cost of materials. To donate or learn more about the mural, click here!

Thank you to you and all of Community Forklift for your help. Rebeka has done an incredible job.-John Muller