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Public art celebrating Freedom House debuts in Dorchester

Celina Colby
Celina Colby is an arts and travel reporter with a fondness for Russian novels.... VIEW BIO
Public art celebrating Freedom House debuts in Dorchester
Unsung Heroes mural, detail. photo: Karmimadeebora McMillan

A new mural blossoms this month at the corner of Warren and Sunderland Streets in Dorchester. Karmimadeebora “Mima” McMillan’s “Unsung Heroes” is an ode to the neighborhood and specifically to the Freedom House, an advocacy group that works with Black, Brown and immigrant students working through high school and college.

The organization’s mission struck a chord with McMillan, who is the first working artist in her family. Although she had the support of her loved ones, no one could help her navigate the tricky educational and professional arts world. The Freedom House provides for young people here in Boston the opportunities that McMillan didn’t have early in her career. Now, as a teacher and as an artist, McMillan understands the importance of that guidance even more.

“Working in education, I understand how much work it takes to be a mentor. And the fact that some of them continue to work with these students for years was really touching to me,” McMillan says.

The mural depicts children walking along a winding orange road with lush growth and vibrant patterns surrounding them on both sides. These fantastical landscapes are typical of McMillan’s paintings. Words and phrases such as “growth,” “empower” and “you will always be supported” float around the figures. On the right-hand side of the mural are portraits of two Freedom House leaders, Katrina Shaw and Charmaine Arthur. They flank a crest with information about the organization’s legacy.

The mural also incorporates “Ms. Merri Mack,” the artist’s signature character developed from the racist and caricatured image of a young Black girl. McMillan appropriated the offensive image and rediscovered the character that had been used to taunt people of color as just a young Black girl whose image was used against her will.

“It’s a reminder that we don’t have a choice on how we come out. We don’t have a choice on what color our skin is,” says McMillan. “I choose to break those barriers by luring people in with bright, beautiful colors, to give the figures a chance to speak a new narrative.”

McMillan is part of the Now + There Public Art Accelerator Program, a program that equips artists with tools, resources and fellowship to design public art projects. At the end of the program, the artists have the opportunity to receive $25,000 in funding to bring those ideas to life. Like all Now + There projects, these are meant to bring accessible public art into all areas of Boston.

McMillan hopes “Unsung Heroes” will speak to the Dorchester community. She says, “For me it was important to show these young kids that I see them, I recognize them, and I hope they recognize themselves in this work.”

Karmimadeebora “Mima” McMillan’s Unsung Heroes mural. photo: Karmimadeebora McMillan