People from across the Rio Grande Valley gathered for the unveiling and dedication ceremony of a mural honoring historic Bethel Garden on Saturday to celebrate Black History Month.
In partnership with the Town of McAllen, Village in the Valley (ViVa), a non-profit group focused on uniting the Black community while connecting the cultures of the Valley, hosted the event.
Bethel Garden, an official Texas Historic Landmark, is the former location of Bethel Missionary Baptist Church at 1322 S. 16th St. in McAllen, which was one of the first African-American churches in Hidalgo County. The garden is across from the former Booker T. Washington High School, the only high school black students could attend when the schools were separated.
“It’s a wonderful historic place,” said Theresa Gatling, co-founder and co-president of ViVa. “We want people to know because there’s a lot of history in the valley and a lot of people don’t know about it. We celebrate that now with this collaboration with the city and with Village in the Valley and other community partners to make it something we can be proud of.
Four new murals painted by artists from the Valley were unveiled during the inauguration ceremony which represent love, faith, hope and education. Artist and former educator Lisa Irby collaborated with other South Texas College artists to create the murals. Mercedes resident Irby used to attend the church where her art is now displayed.
“It’s such an honor now to have some of the work God gave me to now be a part of this given place,” Irby said. “It’s also a matter of hope when you look at each other. There is hope, and there is inspiration and there is love, and there is much, much more that we all have to give. So as we walk in this march of life, we must also keep in mind [that] the most important thing of all is our faith.
Students from McAllen Memorial High School also participated in the creation of the murals.
“It is important to always involve young people because they are the adults of tomorrow. It’s tomorrow’s future,” said art teacher Rina Roberts.
The four murals join muralist Cristela Cano’s Substance of Hope, an artwork that shows Bethel Missionary Baptist Church, Booker T. High School, businesses and homes that once stood in the neighborhood, and children “at through their different distinctions”.
“As of February 2014, I had not seen this mural,” Cano said. “But it came to me, created by the images of the families who live here, and I’m so grateful for it. It changed my life. I come here often, sometimes just to walk around.
Speakers at the event included McAllen Mayor Javier Villalobos, Pastor Al Gatling of Mount Olive Worship Center, Pastor Nick Maddox, who was the last registered pastor of Bethel Missionary Baptist Church, and Floyd Hannah, who attended Booker T. Washington High School and was a member of the Baptist Church.
“Shedding light on black history today is important to understanding us and growing stronger as a nation than ever before,” Villalobos said.
After hearing the speakers, attendees were able to stroll through the garden, appreciate the murals and grab a food basket donated by HEB containing products from black-owned businesses.
Vernithia Baylor, who was helping clean up the site before the garden space was created, said she thinks everyone should visit the Bethel Garden as it is a relaxing experience and a way to recognize history.
The Mission resident said, “They should just go out and visit. It is important. This region of the Rio Grande is so rich with all kinds of stories, and we need to know each other’s story in order to be better united in this region.
Marsha Terry, the other co-founder and co-chair of ViVa, said Black History Month could be celebrated in February, but it’s important to recognize the history of all people of color throughout. the year.
“We should just recognize the contributions of all people throughout the year. I think black history is not just about what happens in February, but also about the contributions that all people of color, no matter where you are from, that you make to the growth and development of our country throughout the year.
ViVa will continue to celebrate Black History Month by hosting a Gospel Night from 6-8 p.m. at McAllen Food Truck Park on Friday with the McAllen Chamber of Commerce as sponsors. For more information about ViVa, visit https://villageinthevalley.org.
See photojournalist Joel Martinez’s full photo gallery here:
Photo gallery: Black community leaders unveil art murals for annual celebration