Gizette Knight’s epiphany came while she was walking home from the grocery, carrying a bag of tacos.
“This guy, he had to be 22 or 23, was standing there on the sidewalk,” the native New Yorker said last Wednesday. “He had no shoes, he hadn’t had a shower in a while. He looked just, down.”
Knight gave the stranger her bag of tacos. She wanted to give him her shoes, too. “Unfortunately, he was a size 10, and I wear a 7.”
She went home and thought about the tacos, and the shoes. She decided if she created a business, she could help people out in a bigger way than handing over her own clothes and her food. That was in 2019, the year she founded Reality Dreams, a nonprofit that brings resources to marginalized communities.
Knight and her nonprofit are particularly interested in the local homeless population. More than 300 showed up for the group’s last “day of kindness” event. “Shoes, clothes, food, jobs, haircuts, counseling,” she said, rattling off a list of benefits given out that day. “Also some other stuff.”
Lately, the group has focused on Black History Month. “Our goal is to paint 28 murals for the 28 days in Black History Month,” Knight said. “But not just the Black figures who already have name or face recognition, the Martin Luther Kings and the Rosa Parkses. We want the people who don’t have the accolades, too.”
These include Dr. Daniel Hale Williams, credited with the first successful open-heart surgery, and civil rights pioneer Dorothy Counts-Scroggins, one of the first Black students admitted to a desegregated high school. Also St. Elmo Brady, the first African-American to receive a doctorate in chemistry.
Most of the murals are located downtown, between 15th Street and Buckeye Road and 15th Avenue and Indian School Road, some in out-of-the-way places. Knight has arranged what she called a “mural hunt.” Visitors can photograph themselves at each mural, then upload the selfie to Reality Dreams’ Facebook event page to be enrolled in a raffle. Each mural is embedded with a QR code that links visitors to a Black History Month Facebook page where they can learn about the people in the murals.
Finding mural artists was easy. But mural artists who could paint excellent portraits were what Knight was after.
“I wanted experienced portrait painters, so you’d look and recognize, you know, Malcolm X or whoever. I’m pairing the portrait artists with the muralists, and they’re bad.”
She paused. “I mean that in the ‘bad is good’ sense.”
Artists who wanted to help but maybe weren’t great at portraits or murals were put to work filling in the block lettering on the murals.
“This was all socially distanced,” Knight was quick to explain. “So if you were doing the B in ‘Black’, then someone else was down the other end, doing the K.”
The group was on schedule to complete all the murals by February 1. Then, the rains came.
“We had to cancel three days of painting,” sighed Knight, who came to Arizona to study business at ASU and later at Grand Canyon University. She was hopeful that everything would be ready in just a few days.
“We had four murals painted just today,” she promised. “When I say we have been busy, I mean busy in the busiest sense.”