Wel­com­ing some new faces

Paint­ing fea­tures Wale, Dave Chap­pelle, Prince and other black icons

The Washington Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY PERRY STEIN perry.stein@wash­post.com

From left, Mariyiah Thompson, 9, Amiyah Wright, 10, and Jay­lah Carter, 11, with Vi­sions Per­form­ing Arts Com­pany, prac­tice their moves be­fore a cer­e­mony Wed­nes­day for a new mu­ral at Ben’s Chili Bowl in the District. The paint­ing de­picts black lu­mi­nar­ies in­clud­ing, from top, Roberta Flack, Chuck Brown and Donnie Simp­son. The pre­vi­ous mu­ral, which fea­tured ac­tor Bill Cosby, was painted over ear­lier this year.

Bill Cosby is no longer fea­tured on the Ben’s Chili Bowl mu­ral, but more than a dozen black lu­mi­nar­ies and cul­tural fig­ures have a spot on the mas­sive public paint­ing.

The un­veil­ing of the lon­gawaited mu­ral Wed­nes­day was an ode to stal­warts in the District’s history and a cel­e­bra­tion of the restau­rant’s sto­ried past.

Leg­endary D.C. ra­dio host Donnie Simp­son basked in his place on the mu­ral. D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Nor­ton (D) also was there to mark her in­clu­sion on the famed mu­ral on the bustling U Street cor­ri­dor.

Co­me­dian Dave Chap­pelle, a D.C. na­tive, snapped pho­tos in front of his por­trait on the mu­ral, which hon­ors fig­ures such as abo­li­tion­ist leader Har­riet Tub­man, for­mer D.C. mid­dle school teacher and singer Roberta Flack, and “Mayor for Life” Mar­ion Barry.

“I want to say this is one of the best hon­ors of my ca­reer,” said Chap­pelle, who grad­u­ated from the Duke Ellington School of the Arts in 1991. “I’m hon­ored to be here.”

The city-com­mis­sioned art­work on prime real es­tate in the 1200 block of U Street NW has been one of the most high-pro­file and con­tro­ver­sial mu­rals in the na­tion’s cap­i­tal.

Artist Aniekan Ud­ofia painted the pre­vi­ous mu­ral on the restau­rant’s fa­cade in 2012. It fea­tured por­traits of then-Pres­i­dent Barack Obama, Simp­son, “God­fa­ther of Go-Go” Chuck Brown and ac­tor Bill Cosby.

But af­ter al­le­ga­tions that Cosby had sex­u­ally as­saulted dozens of women and rev­e­la­tions in court doc­u­ments that he had ad­mit­ted that he in­tended to drug women with whom he wanted to have sex, pres­sure mounted for the land­mark restau­rant to re­move his face.

The mu­ral re­mained for more than two years af­ter al­le­ga­tions sur­faced, un­til the restau­rant be­gan paint­ing over it in Jan­uary. Ev­ery­one ex­cept Cosby is back on the new mu­ral, which Aniekan also painted.

Cosby has long been a friend of the restau­rant and, along with the Oba­mas, gets free half­smokes for life. There was lit­tle men­tion of Cosby at Wed­nes­day’s crowded cer­e­mony, which had peo­ple flow­ing onto U Street.

Ear­lier this year, the restau­rant’s own­ers asked the public to vote on­line to de­ter­mine who would be in­cluded on the mu­ral. The mu­ral, the own­ers say, rep­re­sents the wishes of the public. Barack and Michelle Obama have a prom­i­nent po­si­tion on the new mu­ral.

“It’s a strong group of peo­ple who rep­re­sent pos­i­tive change for our peo­ple and all peo­ple,” said Ka­mal Ben Ali, son of restau­rant founder Ben Ali.

Ben and Vir­ginia Ali opened Ben’s Chili Bowl in 1958 in the pre­dom­i­nantly African Amer­i­can U Street NW cor­ri­dor. Dur­ing the 1968 ri­ots that fol­lowed the as­sas­si­na­tion of Martin Luther King Jr., civil rights leader Stokely Carmichael re­ceived per­mis­sion to keep the restau­rant open past cur­few to pro­vide food and safety to those work­ing to re­store or­der to the city.

While much of the cor­ri­dor was rav­aged by ri­ots, Ben’s Chili Bowl re­mained in­tact.

Since then, the restau­rant, known for its half-smokes, has been a land­mark on the cor­ri­dor and in D.C. history. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) said Wed­nes­day that Ben’s Chili Bowl has been a strong­hold in the com­mu­nity through good and bad times.

The cer­e­mony hon­ored this history, with many peo­ple fea­tured on the mu­ral giv­ing short re­marks.

Nor­ton took a jab at Pres­i­dent Trump dur­ing her speech.

“When I hear the word ‘wall,’ I go into fight­ing mode be­cause we’re so busy fight­ing Don­ald Trump’s wall,” she said. She later added in a tweet that “be­ing wrapped in DC’s flag on the wall of Ben’s Chili Bowl is an honor that makes me blush as I fight for my home­town and D.C. state­hood.”

Lo­cal news­man Jim Vance, who is un­der­go­ing treat­ment for cancer, said “you can­not imag­ine my joy and pride when I got the word.”

Fam­ily mem­bers of Brown and Barry, who died in 2012 and 2014, re­spec­tively, spoke on their be­half.

Cora Mas­ters Barry, who was mar­ried to Barry for nearly 21 years, joked that the for­mer mayor would re­quest food from Ben’s Chili Bowl in his hos­pi­tal room dur­ing the last few months of his life.

“He went down fight­ing for Wash­ing­ton, D.C.,” she said.

Chap­pelle closed the event with an en­thu­si­as­tic plug for D.C. state­hood.

“Long live D.C.,” he said. “God will­ing, the 51st state.”

The mu­ral also in­cludes lo­cal ra­dio per­son­al­ity Russ Parr, rap­per Wale, ac­tress Taraji P. Hen­son, Prince, Muham­mad Ali, and civil rights ac­tivist and co­me­dian Dick Gregory, who at­tended Wed­nes­day’s cer­e­mony.



ABOVE: Co­me­dian Dave Chap­pelle poses with fans in front of a mu­ral de­pict­ing him­self and civil rights ac­tivist Dick Gre­gory, among other black lu­mi­nar­ies, at Ben’s Chili Bowl. BE­LOW: Sharon Parker, left, of Calvert County, Md., and an­other visi­tor take...

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