When a popular mural featuring Colin Kaepernick alongside a Wakanda-fied Muhammad Ali came crashing down the Friday before the Super Bowl in Atlanta, it didn’t go unnoticed. Or unanswered. The day of the Super Snooze Bowl, the clapback was epic as eight more Kaepernick murals went up, bringing the city’s total to nine overall.
Dubbed “Kaeper Bowl” in defiance of the mural’s demolition, Atlanta artists—answering a call via Instagram—rallied around Fabian “Occasional Superstar” Williams, who painted his first mural featuring the outspoken quarterback suited up for the Falcons roughly two years ago when it was clear that no NFL teams were picking him up. Williams felt that Atlanta was the perfect place for Kaep since Atlanta, the birthplace of Martin Luther King Jr. and home to several living civil rights icons, “is where people change the world.”
Inspired to come to Atlanta by his love of the Dungeon Family—which famously birthed OutKast—the North Carolina native has been in the city for nearly 20 years. In addition to painting murals and other works, Williams regularly visits local schools, showing kids that being a visual artist is just as viable as being an athlete or rapper. He even walked from one school to the now-demolished mural with a group of kids to discuss it and field questions.
Surely it’s that kind of commitment and investment that sparked the community outrage over the mural’s demolition. “The community really embraced it,” according to Ash Nash, a visual artist manager and arts advocate who works with Williams. And so did those outside the community. The now-demolished mural was a tourist attraction. It was so popular that George Tillman Jr., director of the socially conscious 2018 film, The Hate U Give, tapped Williams to create another one of Kaepernick when they filmed in Atlanta. That mural is still up and once again ties the activist to Muhammad Ali with its re-imagination of Ali’s epic 1968 Esquire cover depicting him in the pose of the 15th century martyr, Saint Sebastian. Williams flipped the script for his St. Kaepernick creation by having the arrows break as they come at the unemployed quarterback, dressed this time in a “victory” jersey.
For this victory, the “Kaeper Bowl” GoFundMe page exceeded its goal immediately. Eight artists were selected to pull off this incredible feat that Nash largely managed. “These are people that we felt comfortable handing the assignment over to because, one, we didn’t want to just throw up some poor looking murals,” Williams told The Root via phone. The aesthetic, Williams insisted, was very important to him.
To avoid demolition this time around, Nash, who shared that they very much wanted to tie the murals to local businesses to maximize the national and global attention they’ve received since the demolition, said they vetted the buildings. “The longest portion it took in the organization [of getting the murals painted] was making sure that the businesses had approval to have a mural on their wall. Business owners were donating walls but they didn’t necessarily own their business or have approval from their landlord.”
Once that was all established, Williams felt he should set the tone, especially with the first building being about a two-minute drive from the Mercedes-Benz Stadium that hosted the Super Bowl.
“Instead of me getting up in the morning with everybody else and [painting] at the same time, I wanted to set the bar so people would know the type of work that I expected and also do something that had a spiritual and moral core to it. So when they saw it, I wanted them to get how serious it is.”
According to Nash, donors have been informed that additional GoFundMe proceeds that helped pay for supplies and the artists will also help support Bloom, the arts organization Williams has been developing for a while that aims to also use “technology and creativity” to tackle such social problems as sustainable housing and food.
As for the NFL, Williams is adamant that embracing Kaepernick and his activism is their only option, especially in light of the extremely low viewership for this year’s game. “I really do believe the ratings were down because morally, people can’t mess with it. Nobody wants to feel like crap watching the game,” he said.
“I feel like in order to resurrect the league and make the people love the sport again, they need to hire Kaepernick.” And now there are eight new reminders.