WASHINGTON — A mural on a D.C. landmark seemed to come to life Wednesday afternoon as a number of the luminaries on the wall of Ben’s Chili Bowl appeared in person to celebrate the artwork’s completion and the 10th anniversary of the District’s MuralsDC program.
Among those in attendance was Dave Chappelle, a D.C. native whose image is among the local trailblazers featured in the mural.
“I just want to thank you guys,” Chappelle told Kamal Ben Ali, whose father founded Ben’s Chili Bowl. “Ben, I want you to know I’m honored to be home and that this mean an enormous amount to me and my family, I’m very proud of it.”
The new mural called “the Torch” features the faces of more than a dozen black trailblazers ranging from entertainers like Chappelle and Prince to activists such as Harriet Tubman and Dick Gregory and politicians like Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton and former President Barack Obama.
The portraits were chosen by the Ali family after more than 30,000 votes were cast in an online contest.
As the crowd jostled to gain the best spot to raise a cellphone to capture the unveiling, Chappelle also made a plug for D.C. statehood telling the crowd, “Much love everybody, Mayor, long live D.C. God willing, 51st state.”
Virginia Ali, Ben Ali’s widow, greeted the crowd with her trademark warmth and thanked the community for supporting the business for nearly 60 years.
Her son told the crowd that the likenesses on the mural represent “positive activism on multiple levels across multiple professions.”
Kamal Ben Ali also linked the figures on the mural to the quest for D.C. statehood.
“What would Harriett Tubman say?” Ali asked. “They say the same thing that Barack and Michelle are saying, the same thing that everyone on this wall is saying: Give D.C. residents a vote!”
Artist Aniekan Udofia told the crowd that the mural wasn’t intended to be a history lesson, but a piece of art that is educational.
He was called a “wizard” for his ability to take the project from black and white sketches on the side of Ben’s to a sprawling full-color mural alive with an expression of local pride.
Takeila Berkins stopped by to try Ben’s Chili Bowl while she was in town from Dallas, Texas. She was stunned by the event.
“I am just so excited, this is so amazing!” she said. “We just wanted to get a taste of the history and see everything and what it’s all about!”
Then she and her traveling companion got in line to try one of those word-famous chili dogs.
The mural that used to be there featured the likeness of now-embattled comedian Bill Cosby, whose love of Ben’s Half-Smokes and support of the restaurant, which weathered the riots of the late 1960s, earned Cosby free eats whenever he visited the District of Columbia.
While discussing the new mural, the Ali family made no mention of Cosby’s recent legal troubles, instead just saying it was time for a new mural.
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