Atlanta United’s ‘Spirit of ‘17’ mural campaign honors often unsung community leaders

Artist Fabian Williams (left) and entrepreneur J. Carter talk in front of a new mural in Atlanta’s Westview neighborhood.

Emil Moffatt/WABE News

Drive around Atlanta and it’s hard not to see murals depicting civil rights icons like John Lewis, C.T. Vivian and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

Artist Fabian Williams knows this – he’s painted some of them. But he also says the city should not be afraid to recognize its contemporary leaders too.

“It’s also important for us to take note of the people who are doing the work now and turning opportunities into ways to bring people together and move even closer to an ideal world that Martin Luther King Jr. talked about,” Williams said.

Williams’ latest mural, painted on the side of a building in the city’s Westview neighborhood, features two living community leaders who are not necessarily household names: Oronike Odeleye and J. Carter, driving forces behind Atlanta’s ONE Musicfest.

The murals are part of Atlanta United’s “Spirit of ’17” campaign, meant to bring attention to community trailblazers who don’t always live in the spotlight. Seventeen refers to the soccer club’s first season; Atlanta United’s diehard fans are known as “17s”.

The team hasn’t named the full list of honorees, but other murals feature restaurant entrepreneur Pinky Cole, Latisha Springer, who founded a grassroots organization to fight hunger in Atlanta, and the late television journalist Jovita Moore.

‘Humbling and amazing’

In the mural at the corner of Ralph David Abernathy Boulevard and Inman Street, Odeleye and Carter are both depicted with a modified version of the familiar Atlanta United circle logo behind their heads, creating a halo effect. “They’re not saints, per se, but they’re people of note,” Williams said.

Odeleye was particularly honored that she was featured on the mural in Westview, calling it “humbling and amazing.”

“That’s my community, that’s where I live” said Odeleye. “I actually ran up on it by mistake the first time, but have since been back with my family and with J. Carter, who’s also featured with me in the mural.”

Carter said it’s not often someone gets to see their likeness on a mural.

“Most of the murals you see is something commemorative of someone who’s done something in the community but is no longer with us,” he said.

Carter founded ONE Musicfest more than a decade ago. Since then it has grown from 2,500 attendees to 40,000. It also provides opportunities for Atlanta businesses to sell food and merchandise to an audience from around the country.

Odeleye credits Carter’s mentorship for her helping her grow in the live music industry. In addition to Odeleye’s work with the music festival, she helped lead the #MuteRKelly movement, which encouraged radio stations to stop playing R. Kelly’s music. After allegations against Kelly swirled for decades, the musician was convicted of sex trafficking and racketeering in September 2021.

“We don’t have to have to stand by and be complicit or be silent in it,” Odeleye said of the conviction. “We’ve created something that people see they can model and replicate so that when they see these things happening, we can stop it and it’s not another case of 30 years of somebody being able to do this in their community and not be held accountable.”

Carter says as Atlanta neighborhoods change, Atlanta United’s “Spirit of ’17” campaign can help pay tribute to those who’ve lived and worked in those communities for decades.

“I just hope that we do our due diligence so that these new folks moving into these neighborhoods don’t lose sight of the culture and what made Atlanta’ Atlanta’ and so attractive, fun, creative and progressive,” said Carter.