The magnificent Harlem wall to celebrate Dizzy Gillespie’s 100th birthday

The world’s largest street art campaign and human rights initiative “Education is Not a Crime” has unveiled the 100th birthday mural of John Birks “Dizzy” Gillespie in Harlem, at 229 West 135th Street. This is the 20th and largest of the project’s New York City campaign.

Dizzy has often championed the Baha’i concept of the unity of all mankind. His experience as an African-American who overcame discrimination and marginalization through music and faith, brings his life story to the cause of Education Is Not A Crime. Dizzy Gillespie, who was born in South Carolina on October 21, 1917, was an acclaimed African jazz musician and vocal member of the worldwide Baha’i community. This year, he celebrates his 100th birthday. He died in 1993 in New Jersey.

The Gilman Contemporary opened its doors in 2007 and has established its artistic programming by integrating new and established artists who apply an innovative approach departing from traditional artistic styles. Kontaxis joined the group of renowned artists to present his complex and vibrant work, an opportunity that was only a dream for the young artist.

Maziar Bahari, the Iranian-Canadian journalist who starred in Jon Stewart’s 2014 documentary Rosewater and was imprisoned for 118 days in Iran in 2009 for his work, was the founder of the campaign entitled Education is not a criminal act.

“By creating this Dizzy Gillespie mural in Harlem, we are paying tribute to the African-American jazz genius and human rights activist.”


The latest double mural created by artists Brandan “Bmike” Odums and Marthalicia Matearrita stands in front of the plaque and image of Dizzy’s . It also features on the Harlem Walk of Fame. Odums became famous in his native New Orleans for a monumental series of socially conscious murals he painted on abandoned houses. Matarrita is a Harlem resident whose struggle to secure the right to education makes her an ideal partner for this project.

Every summer since 2015, Education Is Not A Crime has been painting murals in New York City to draw attention to the lack of education for the Baha’i minority in Iran. The 40 murals produced by Education Is Not A Crime 19 are located in Harlem. The murals are scheduled for release in the coming days, when Iranian officials will be in New York for the United Nations General Assembly. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani will address the UN on September 20. Nobel Peace Prize laureates Desmond Tutu and Shirin Ebadi, as well as actors Mark Ruffalo and Rainn Wilson, lent their support to Education is Not a Crime and expressed their displeasure at the oppression of Iranian Baha’is.

The Iranian government has systematically targeted the Baha’is, the country’s largest religious minority, since the Islamic revolution of 1979. A large number of Baha’is were killed after the revolution. Official documents require that Baha’is be excluded from university. In 1987, they set up an underground university known as the Bahá’í Institute of Higher Education to combat this discrimination. Ninety-five Baha’is are currently in prison.

In his 1979 autobiography, “Dizzy Gillespie: To Be, or Not… to Bop”, written with Al Fraser, Dizzy declared:

When I met faith […], I believed in the unification of all peoples. I believed in the unification of all mankind. I believed that we were all part of the same family and that no one type of person was intrinsically superior to another. They also teach unity. I believed in it

Street Art Anarchy, an organization that carries out high-impact public projects, created Dizzy’s mural as well as the 19 previous works in Harlem. The Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce donated the walls, located at 229 W 135th Street, for this new project.

The mural is also part of the way Baha’is are preparing to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the birth of Baha’u’llah, the founder of the Faith, which falls the day after Dizzy’s birthday.

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