Celebrating Black History Month through Art with Gizette Knight
To celebrate the start of Black History Month, we interviewed Gizette Knight, the founder of Shining Light Foundation and Catalyze Class 1 alumni. Keep reading to learn more about the Black History Mural Project, this year’s murals in Mesa and how Shining Light Foundation is supporting Arizona.
VL: Tell us a little bit about yourself!
Gizette: I’m a New York native but I moved to Arizona to attend ASU and got my degree in Human Communication. Then, I attended GCU, where I got my Masters in Business Administration and started what would become the Shining Light Foundation. The name comes from “shining light” on, and bringing awareness to, various current issues in marginalized communities. We do so by collaborating with other organizations that have the resources needed in the communities we serve.
VL: What inspired you to transition the Shining Light Foundation from an LLC to a non-profit business?
Gizette: Our most major transition started when the Black Lives Matter Movement was gaining momentum. We arranged 2 major BLM marches during the height of the movement, one of which assembled over 3000 attendees! We also organized A March With Our Ancestors to celebrate Juneteenth in 2020. As the momentum of the BLM Movement began to die down, we wanted to keep pursuing equality and educating the community on these injustices.
VL: What was the inspiration for the Black History Mural Project that launched last year?
Gizette: Our inspiration for the Black History Mural Project was to pay homage to the many great and talented Black men and women scattered throughout history who have paved the way for us today. We went national last year, so we did 28 murals in Dallas, L.A., Atlanta, and Phoenix, with local artists from each of the cities.
“It’s not just about getting the murals out there, it’s also about creating opportunities for our artists. By bringing this project to different cities, we are also helping artists all over the country put food on their tables.”
VL: This month, you’re unveiling the Sidney Poitier mural, can you share the inspiration for this latest project?
Gizette: Our inspiration was to pay homage to Sidney Poitier, who is an icon to not only the Black community, but also the film industry overall. He acted in the industry when the only roles for Black actors were docile and not complementary to the Black community, often portraying us in a negative light and as “less than” others. We really wanted to recognize his fight to pave the way for other Black actors, characters, and roles by changing the narrative and playing strong, manly, and leading characters.
Our main goal was to highlight how he persevered and was resilient through adversity. The concept design for the murals was done entirely by the amazing artists who brought this project to fruition, Giovannie Dixon and Maggie Keane.
“We could not have done this project or any of these murals without artists donating their time, passion, expertise, and creativity to these projects.”
VL: What can we expect at the mural unveiling? What should we look forward to?
Gizette: One of the things we have noticed at the Shining Light Foundation is that Black History is often made synonymous with the civil rights movement and slavery, so, one of the things we wanted to specifically highlight is the arts. We will have various performative arts and dances as well as live music to bring our stories to life. We couldn’t have done any of it it without the support of the Sidney Poitier New American Film School and the ASU MIX Center!
VL: How have you continued to evolve the Black History Month Mural Project?
Gizette: We decided to attach an educational component to the art itself and reached out to school districts which had their students write essays on the iconic figures in the murals. The schools would then send us the best essays which we attached to each of the murals with QR codes so viewers could read about the impact these figures had on their communities.
VL: How else is the Shining Light Foundation helping the Arizona community?
Gizette: We help serve our community by actively bringing resources to neighborhoods and engaging individuals in these communities. “This process is pivotal to the sustainability of these communities.” For example, in 2021, we hosted a Day of Kindness during which we helped shelter communities. For this event, we gave people who experience homelessness the option to shower, get free haircuts, new clothing, free counseling, and even pet grooming for their beloved animals.
“We reached out to non-profit organizations that deal with behavioral health and we were able to give them free counseling, job applications for individuals that were not severely mentally ill, and opportunities to interview for jobs on the spot with the workforce development team.”
This past December, we realized the dire need for environmental health in South Phoenix. So we teamed up with Trees Matter to plant 65 trees in South Phoenix and clean up 3 neighborhoods.
VL: What exciting opportunities do you and the Shining Light Foundation have planned for the year?
“I am excited that we are in a different city, most of the murals are in phoenix, but expanding to another large city and having residents from that city experience this project and to be able to educate different communities and people and have residents form those cities be impacted like phoenix residents is really exciting for me.”
We also have a mural unveiling in February of the Buffalo Soldiers and multiple other murals and street art projects which will be going up in public spaces and schools all over the state!
VL: The ongoing fight for equity and to create space for black artists to thrive in any medium is a daunting one, what motivates you to keep fighting and taking one step forward everyday to reach these goals?
Gizette: “What motivates me is the people. This isn’t about me, I’m not doing this so I can get publicity, I’m doing this to uplift communities. When I see communities and people loving and embracing these murals, that gives me the motivation to keep going because I know I’m adding value to these neighborhoods and to these communities.”
VL: How can people in the community help support the Shining Light Foundation?
Gizette: Help us help marginalized communities by providing us with donations which we can use to gather the resources needed to support these neighborhoods. Your help is pivotal to the sustainability of these communities!