Sedi Bo’s image is memorialized in a mural on the corner of 14th and Campbell. Sedi’s name was Cedric, people also called him Country. He was a musical artist. He grew up in West Oakland. His sister’s runs a hair shop in the neighborhood. Sedi or Country and his family are a part of this community’s history. Sedi had some experience running the streets in West Oakland . Mural artist Refa Senay says, “Country let go of the streets but the streets didn’t let go of him.”
Sedi matured; he inventoried his life and chose to make some positive changes. He wanted to be a good father, he looked forward to raising his daughter, his music reflected his newly elevated consciousness. Those that loved him when he was in the streets loved him even more as a striver. His change was sincere and beautiful to see. Then he was cut down. Sedi’s life was interrupted one night in the Acorn Projects. He was gunned down in a presumed robbery. He was shot as he ran from his assailants who got nothing for their efforts.
It hurt. It inspired anger. Retaliation was discussed. People felt his loss deeply and the community grief could have been articulated in any number of sad ways. The streets would no doubt have understood. After all that’s the way it goes all too many times. Everybody losing: blood on both sides assures no winners will be found. The memory and collective love of Sedi Bo painted a different picture. His transformed life offered a lasting gift. The spirit of Sedi Bo cleansed and sanctified the corner of 14th and Campbell.
His is a story of redemption and tragedy transformed into something much bigger. The mural that memorializes him is his testament, his legacy, and a summation of what became his greatest accomplishment. His most remarkable feat was not accomplished in his life but manifest itself in a tribute to his decision to live a life that mattered . The respect for his effort transformed the energy of a corner that had been a open air drug spot into a sacred space. The mural is a marker of a shining moment when a community inspired by his life and heartbroken over his murder transformed their grief into collective action.
Refa Senay, a remarkable artist, a founder of the AreoSoul Collective, also grew up in West Oakland. He says that as a child he never had to travel out of his neighborhood to see the work of master artists. He recalls a childhood filled with culture and contact with cultural workers. He told me about a mural that used to be near Greyhound bus station in downtown Oakland. That mural is now gone, but the day his father stopped his car and let a young Senay out to watch artist Juan Carlos work on the mural, lives in his memory. Senay says he never formally studied art. His apprenticeship in the art of visual writing was self directed, and no doubt greatly enhanced by the accessibility of extraordinary artist in the neighborhood in which he grew up. Refa Senay is the artist who created the original Malcolm X mural at SF State. He also stewards several community art sites in Oakland. His dedication to the creation of quality art in neighborhoods is commendable. His work is iconic; his deft use of ribald color and his skillful blend of African symbolism lovingly interwoven with North American African imagery makes his work a celebration. Senay has followed most successfully in the footsteps of the master artists he admired as a child. He paints few memorial murals. Sedi was special.
The building on the corner of 14th and Campbell where the mural lives is catercorner to Sedi’s family’s front door. The building that once stood vacant and in disrepair was a meeting place for white tee’s and knocks looking for dope. It was loud and dangerous, the kind of spot, you don’t want in front of your Mama’s house, or your kids to walk through on their way to and from school. The police and the community understood the business of the corner and watched as commerce on the corner rolled on unabated for years.
Sedi’s desire for something better transformed the abused space into a monument to self-determination. After getting the permission of Sedi’s family and the neighborhood Refa offered up a mural that wrapped around the building and marked the space as sacred. The young men that did business on that corner contributed funds to commission the mural. When the word spread fives and tens poured in from the community at large. Refa’s work opened a door for the youth and the elders in the community to have a conversation that ended with the youth agreeing to close shop on that corner. They kept their word, all drug sales on that corner were stopped.
The corner remains drug free. The mural stood as a sign of the agreement to give the corner to a higher purpose. The mural, “changed the energy on that corner”, comments Senay . The effort of artist and community offered Sedi’s family a memorial visible from their front door. The mural was a reminder of Sefi’s life much more comforting than a trip to the graveyard.
The agreement made in community stands as did the mural for a number of years. The vacant property was purchased a couple of years ago. When the new owner started renovations Senay was notified that the new owner had hired a casual labor crew that was in the process of painting over the mural with paint rollers. By the time he was able to intervene the cause had been taken up by community members who insisted the mural remain. An agreement was reached between the community and the new owner and the portion of the mural shown here was allowed to remain.
Sedi still guarded the corner; a beacon of hope for those who wish better for this community and as a reminder of the day they stood together and and chose creation over retaliation as a way of honoring Sedi’s life. The mural was a reminder of how precious life is and that change is possible. The work was spray tagged a couple of months ago. An odd occurrence; it has stood unmolested, revered, and respected since the community commissioned it. Senay restored the work as you can see in the image above.
After the last restoration someone attempted to totally obliterate the work using a paint roller to cover Sedi’s face. Senay was able to minimize the damage done in this second pass at destroying the work. The image below is the way the mural looks today after several hours of work on Senay’s part. Plans are being made to restore the work.
I hope sharing Sedi’s story inspires people’s curiosity about the history represented in street art and helps to develop a respectful regard for the work of cultural workers dedicated to enlivening where we live. I want people to consider and appreciate the elbow grease, sweat, and expense expended in the making of art for the people. I want people who live in the neighborhood to know that the history of that space is important to those who make their home here. I want to say out loud that it feels disrespectful and wrong for the work to be continually attacked. I want to make it clear that we value our stories and we will not easily be overwritten.
Those of us who choose to create in marginalized spaces understand fully that we must make an effort to forge the peace and prosperity we deserve ourselves; we understand stewardship. We will continue to create. We will continue to strive. We got this Country.
If you would like to donate to the restoration of this mural contact:
Dr. Nzinga at firstname.lastname@example.org