The Tuzuri Watu mural at Third and Palou is being restored

“The Tuzuri Watu mural greeted us in all its glory when we moved to Third Street in 1991,” says Bay View editor Mary Ratcliff. “Everyone treasured it, and for decades it remained unmarked by graffiti. This is the way it looked about 10 years ago when the first graffiti showed up. The mural itself was fading, not commanding the respect it once did. We’ll rejoice when it’s restored.”

by Nate Watson

Painted in 1987, the lavish mural that adorns the building on the northeast corner of Third and Palou, Bayview Hunters Point’s main intersection, is named “Tuzuri Watu,” which means “We are beautiful people” in Swahili, and it features a who’s who of celebrated African American figures. Years of graffiti and sun fading have damaged this important mural, but thanks to the combined efforts of the San Francisco Arts Commission, EDOT (Economic Development on Third), and the renowned muralist and restoration experts at Precita Eyes, this mural is being brought back to its original glory for all of Bayview to celebrate.

The Tuzuri Watu Mural was created by artist Brooke Fancher more than 30 years ago to be beautiful and uplifting to the community of Bayview. Back then she collected signatures of approval from local residents, and, on the advice of Sam Jordan, attended Bayview neighborhood association meetings to introduce herself and the ideas behind the mural itself. The artist recalls being warmly received by the community and, using residents’ feedback, she developed the subject matter that reflects the diverse work, contributions, creative activities and social relationships of African Americans in the neighborhood.

The imagery in the Tuzuri Watu mural came from photographs of people in Bayview and from events like the Black Cowboy Parade, and it includes lines of poetry by African American poets. Other details in the mural reflect a scientist with his microscope, a teacher inspiring her students, Gospel singers in church, and a father holding his baby son after a hard day’s work. Also pictured are Alvin Ailey of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, the great Artistic Director Judith Jamison whose accomplishments include the 2010 Congressional Black Caucus Phoenix award, and a talented local saxophone player who also played at the first dedication of the completed artwork.

Although the colors are no longer vivid, look carefully to see the extent of the Tuzuri Watu mural. See how every available space on the building comes alive with scenes from Black community and family life. The mural also features Black women writers.

The mural reflects time spent walking and talking with the people who live here, and decades later current Bayview residents and business owners recognize figures in the mural. This is why EDot advocated so intently and for so long, working alongside pillars in the community like Dorris Vincent, so that those who live and work in Bayview do not forget about our beauty and our potential and so that we continue to work to preserve a future for our African American community who still call Bayview home.

For more information and to follow the progress of the restoration go to @tuzuriwatubayview, and look out for the unveiling of the fully restored mural in mid-August.

Nate Watson is executive director of Public Glass, a non-profit arts organization committed to providing access to the resources needed to make art from glass, located in Bayview Hunters Point at 1750 Armstrong Ave., San Francisco. He can be reached at nate@publicglass.org.