Sonoma Valley mural honors local activist
For about seven hours every day, artist Rima Makaryan is transforming a bare white wall of a Boyes Hot Springs skate shop into a portrait of her mentor, D’mitra Smith.
The grassroots group uses public art to highlight social justice causes and local leaders in communities of color. The group was behind the portraits of three women activists currently displayed at Santa Rosa Plaza and the murals along Fourth Street.
“She actually has been on top of the list for very long time,” said Makaryan. The two met when Makaryan joined the Junior Commission on Human Rights as a Montgomery High School sophomore about four years ago.
Pinpointing the mural’s completion date is tricky, Makaryan said, but she and a group of volunteers are working on it daily. SCAPE launched a GoFundMe in May to cover the cost of materials and labor. As of Wednesday, $2,433 of the $10,000 has been raised.
Once completed, the portrait will feature Smith speaking into a microphone. The phrase “for the people” and its Spanish translation “para la gente” will repeat in bold letters across the background.
The top of the mural also will include small folding chairs, a nod to the Shirley Chisholm quote, “If they don't give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.”
“I think that encompassed who she is as an activist so perfectly and the nature of the work we’re doing,” Makaryan said. ”... We do things in our own way. We make space for ourselves.“
The Chisholm quote resonates with Smith, who said the community largely ignored her work around humans rights and systemic racism until 2020, when the murder of George Floyd spurred Black Lives Matter demonstrations in Sonoma County and across the country.
Smith began volunteering with the Commission on Human Rights in 2012, and has focused her efforts on improving equity and representation of people of color in Sonoma County. During her time as chair, she spearheaded the Sonoma County Human Rights Visibility Project, a multi-language online tool to report human rights violations, as well as reports on racial discrimination in schools and police handling of Black Lives Matter demonstrations.
“I love data, I love reports, I love unpacking all these issues,” she said. “It’s in the air that we breathe. It’s easy to say, ’This is the way it is.’ I’m the person saying ’No, it doesn’t have to be this way.’ ”
Although Smith left the commission in 2020, she has continued to volunteer. She co-founded Food for All - Comida Para Todos during the pandemic, which delivers food to Sonoma Valley families in need. She recently has partnered with the Sonoma County NAACP for a report about issues facing Black residents in Sonoma County.
“I think she sees how connected all of these issues are,” Makaryan said. “She knows how to address them and works really really hard to help all facets of the community, even if shes not directly a part of them.”
At first, Smith said she was hesitant to be included in the mural and wondered if there were other residents who deserved the recognition more.
“If having kids in that neighborhood who are Black and brown be inspired and feel like there’s a place for them, then that’s worth it to me,” she said.