Friday, July 9, 2010

Arthur Teele Mural Unveiled

As reposted from The Miami Herald, local artist Adonis Parker unveiled a tribute painting at the end of June in honor of Arthur Teele:

Liberty City residents plant garden in tribute to late Arthur Teele

The hum from Interstate 95 is louder than a chorus of vuvuzela horns at a soccer match. But below, amidst a sea of concrete, nightclubs and tough streets, seeds of love are being sown in a butterfly garden.

``This used to be a dump, full of old cars, tires and dead bodies,'' said Hattie Willis, director of Communities United, the nonprofit that helped revive the lot. ``We're the caretakers now, and Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden is the grandparent.''

Though you can hear people place orders at the Burger King drive-thru next door, once inside the garden with its bird bath, butterflies and park benches, it's as if you put on a pair of noise-canceling headphones.

This piece of land the size of a small city block was previously owned by the Florida Department of Transportation, according to Willis, who with supporters has spent the past six years caring for the lot. She thanks the city of Miami, but adds that she couldn't wrestle through the red tape to acquire the land without the help of the late Miami Commissioner Arthur Teele.

``Arthur Teele fought to make this happen,'' said Willis. ``He took care of us.''

To honor Teele's legacy, local artist Adonis Parker unveiled a tribute mural painted along the west side of an I-95 off-ramp, in full view of those seated inside the garden. He received $1,800 in county grant money for the work.

Parker said that the chess board honors students from Toussaint L'Ouverture Elementary, 120 NE 59th St., who have a long history of chess prowess at the state and national levels.
However, one piece on the board is down: the king.

``That symbolizes that the king, Arthur Teele from District 5, has fallen,'' Parker said.

The tree symbolizes the ``circle of life,'' and the fruit, the children who represent the future. Students, and a lot of educators, are actively involved with the garden.

Lavon Williams, a teacher at Oakgrove Elementary, works alongside students as they plant trees. Dripping with sweat, he said he does it because he lives in the community and wants to give something back.

``I like to plant things,'' said Johnny Jean, 13, an eighth-grader from Horace Mann Middle who spent three hours digging holes for new plants. ``You can't learn stuff like this in a classroom.''

Williams, who is also an expert landscaper, proudly points and calls every plant in the garden by name: ``You have lantanas, porter weeds, Jamaican capers, bromeliads and more.''

Alison Austin, CEO of the Belafonte-Tacolcy Center, 6161 NW Ninth Ave., who is also co-chair of the butterfly garden, calls the project a ``labor of love.''

``Every year, we bring a different group of kids here from Tacolcy to get hands-on experience with gardening,'' said Austin, who spent countless hours studying which plants would best attract butterflies.

Austin estimates it is up to 20 degrees cooler inside the garden, with its lush and towering canopy of native palm trees and shrubs. The scent of fresh flowers and the cool shade cover makes a great escape from the hot concrete out front.

The Teele mural honors a complex leader whose 15 years in local political office included support for neighborhood parks, libraries and community centers, as well as criminal charges for corruption, fraud and money laundering.

Teele was never found guilty of a crime, though.

His only conviction -- for threatening a police officer -- was overturned on appeal after Teele's suicide in The Miami Herald's lobby in July 2005. At the time of his death, Teele, 59, was awaiting trial on other, more serious charges that he accepted shopping bags stuffed with cash for kickbacks.

On Saturday, before a crowd of Teele supporters walked across the street to hear Miami Commissioner Richard Dunn II dedicate a plaque to honor Teele, it started to rain, but only in that section where the mural was to be unveiled.

When the rain stopped, Dunn left the community with an important message.

``We all need to work together to continue the legacy of a visionary leader: Art Teele.'


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