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Once upon a time, two overly optimistic neighbors (Bonnie Borucki and Sara Bruckmeier) dreamed of bringing people together to create murals about the history of South Berkeley, grounded in stories of seniors who had lived here a long long time. So… they did! Twice!

The first time was in 2005, right on time to join The California Story Fund and contribute to a statewide movement to collect and share oral histories of California’s diverse communities.

The 2005 project took more than 40 people more than two years to complete. Seniors recalled their lives, volunteers recorded interviews, artists created images, neighbors researched California history, and some people made lasagna. Everyone’s efforts added up to HereStories, a series of murals based on the lived experience of local elders.

We wanted the HereStories paintings to be an outdoor gallery, open to everyone. Malcolm X Elementary School offered this playground fence, students painted murals for the inside of the fence, and the HereStories murals found a home here on Ashby Avenue.

By 2017, after 10 years outdoors, the paintings were showing signs of wear. A civic-minded Malcolm X parent (Zach Franklin) felt inspired to track down the HereStories team and together revive the project. The current set of murals includes both new and refurbished paintings—the originals (painted 2005-2007) are square, and the new ones (painted 2018-2019) are diamond-shaped. Revamped signs next to each mural offer chapters from California history and observations by the storytellers, artists, and writers.

In the Spring of 2018, a group of fourth and fifth grade art students created these paintings to celebrate family migration stories shared by members of the Malcolm X school community. Family members came to class to share stories in person and also gave videotaped interviews. Students discussed many reasons why people migrate and came to appreciate that every family has a unique and fascinating history.

For inspiration, the student artists studied the artwork of Jacob Lawrence. Lawrence was an African-American painter famous for bold, narrative paintings that depict aspects of black life and history. His best known paintings are called the Migration Series. They tell the story of the movement of millions of African Americans from the southern states to northern, midwestern and western cities. This major population shift, known as the Great Migration, took place from 1916 to 1970.


After studying Lawrence’s technique, the students experimented with making bold, flat compositions using simple shapes and bright and earthy colors. Each painting evolved to reflect the style and ideas of the student artists, who spent months listening, discussing, brainstorming, planning, priming, sketching and painting. Parents and community volunteers helped facilitate this project.

Long live South Berkeley and the Malcolm X community! May we remember, respect, and learn from the past.

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