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Mural in Watts Illustrates When Nature Imitates Life
By Bertram Keller, Contributing Writer
Published May 27, 2021

3rd Rock Hip Hop (Left) Rhonda Phillips, (Middle-Left) Warren Dickson, and (Right) Archie E. Hill meet with Muralist (Middle-Right) Jonathan Martinez to celebrate the finished mural.

A nature-inspired mural has recently went up in Watts over past weeks. The mural lives at the corner of Compton Avenue and Century Boulevard and it features the most famous of mountain lions known to man—P-22.

The National Wildlife Federation’s #SaveLACougars campaign and the eco-conscious music group 3rd Rock Hip Hop collaborated to install the mural with muralist and painter Jonathan Martinez. What began as a “environmental entertainment company” with 3rd Rock Hip Hop CEO Archie E. Hill, has now evolved into a substantial source for community activism lead by CFO Warren Dickson and COO Rhonda Phillips.

CFO of 3rd Rock Hip Hop and longtime resident of Watts, Warren Dickson said “It started getting around, and then the city decided to meet with us. We took a tour of the wall and told them what we wanted to do—from planting trees to painting a butterfly garden in the pockets of the wall just to bring more life here.”

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As cars drive past, drivers honk with approval for the new addition to the neighborhood. What was once a bland-colored wall; occasionally, patched with graffiti and gang tags is now a vibrant natured-inspired mural. “They would paint [the] projects to control the emotion of the people because colors can do that… We wanted to make sure the colors out here [were] vibrant, [and] something that is more inspirational,” said Dickson.

Muralist Jonathan Martinez conveyed that “it’s in your face when you see [P-22] … Then you have the monarch butterflies that are super bright animals, you know bright orange [with] that black that shimmers… You know, nature is a mixture of colors. All these colors come from nature at the end of the day, we’re just imitating nature.”

The allegory of the renowned P-22 mountain lion can provide a deep-rooted representation of the neighborhood’s identity itself. “[The] rare story of a mountain lion making a journey to cross the freeway [while] other ones died just trying to get across,” said Dickson. “That is kind of what I mean by systematic oppression—building things for our convenience is making it hard for them to survive, and we can relate to that here.”

P-22 is still the only mountain lion known to have traveled from the Santa Monica Mountains to the Griffith Park area. An extremely dangerous 50-mile-trip that crossed two of the busiest freeways in the country—both the 101 and the 405 freeway. While many cougars have attempted to make this 50-mile-trip; unfortunately, P-22 is the only cougar to have survived it, which also makes him extremely lonely and incapable of mating.

Martinez’s hand-crafted mural also features monarch butterflies flocking around P-22 walking in a grassy knoll. “[The butterfly] have the same struggle,” said Dickson. “They migrate every year and it’s become harder for them to survive [the journey] … The environment that they’re used to is changing as well and it’s affecting the numbers—that’s what’s happening here [in Watts].”

New mural installed at the corner of Compton Ave. and Century Blvd. of famous mountain lion P-22.

Millions of monarch butterflies leave their summer breeding grounds in the northeastern part of the U.S. and Canada, and then travel upwards of 3,000 miles to reach overwintering grounds in southwestern Mexico. However, unlike birds that also embark on epic migrations, the individual monarch butterflies will never return.

Under metaphoric pretenses, the mural incases a similar correlation between these endangered animals and the neglection of Watts residents. A community continuing to be underserved by subpar living conditions, such as, poor air quality, fresh food deserts and subpar water conditions which has manifested itself through various ailments.

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“Black people just want you guys to love them like you love mountain lions,” said Dickson when speaking to National Wildlife Federation and State Officials. “I [gave] them another perspective and showed them [that] the biggest mistake we can make is to think that the struggle of wildlife and the people are separate or different, it’s not.”

There are many studies which show that murals can very well decrease the tension of a community; in this case, also act as an instrument to metaphorically express experiences that are difficult to put into words. However, installing a mural expecting things to change in Watts is like putting a bandage on a broken leg.

“We need to actually connect this, and from that point we were working on building a bridge to connect it,” said Dickson. “One thing we’re changing right now through doing this, is that we’re changing the idea of what cool is. Cool is not [about] what you got on. Cool is not [about] you doing damage. What is cool is you building and helping, doing something like this… We’re doing this right now, and it will be a young person in the community that could do this same thing just through caring and curiosity.”

In conjunction with the National Wildlife Federation and a community of dedicated supporters, such as 3rd Rock Hip Hop. Supporters seek to bring awareness to the endangerment of Los Angeles mountain lions, as well as build a wildlife crossing at Liberty Canyon to re-connect an entire ecosystem that has long been fragmented by an almost impenetrable barrier for wildlife, which helps avoid mass extinction of cougars.

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