Staircases and Mountaintops: Ascending Beyond the Dream

Staircases and Mountaintops: Ascending Beyond the Dream section by Willis Nomo Humphrey. Photo by Steve Weinik.

Staircases and Mountaintops: Ascending Beyond the Dream section by Jonny Buss. Photo by Steve Weinik.

In the spring of 2014, PhillyRising Collaborative and the Martin Luther King, Jr. Recreation Center in North Philadelphia approached Mural Arts Philadelphia about renovating the older murals at the Center. Following their meeting, Mural Arts gathered a team to create Staircases and Mountaintops: Ascending Beyond the Dream, a continuation and expansion of the work Mural Arts’ Restorative Justice Guild Program was already doing at the facility. The mural – based on a photograph by William Lovelace – depicts Martin Luther King, Jr. and his wife, Coretta Scott King, as they led a voting rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, in March 1965.

The facility is a cornerstone of this community, encompassing an entire city block, and boasting a full-size gym, classrooms for after-school and full-day programs, a large playground and sports fields. New murals and mosaics help draw attention to the services this city resource provides.

Artist Willis Nomo Humphrey speaks at the mural dedication for Staircases and Mountaintops. Photo by Steve Weinik.

Lead artists Willis Humphrey aka Nomo and Jonny Buss, along with Guild participants, met with the local community on several occasions to gauge the type of mural they wanted in their neighborhood. After numerous collaborative discussions, Humphrey created a design for both the front of the building and the side facing the playground, inspired by the civil rights movement and Dr. King’s pivotal role in the fight for equality. Abstract mountains and stairs symbolize activists’ arduous journey to attain their full rights. At the front of the facility, the team installed a brand new, intricate mosaic by Buss that enlivens the space and serves as a symbol of welcome.


City of Philadelphia, Hummingbird Foundation, JP Morgan Chase, Bryan Weingarten, Lenfest Foundation, I.B.E.W. Local 98, City of Philadelphia Prison System


City of Philadelphia, City of Philadelphia Youth Violence Reduction Partnership, PhillyRising Collaborative, Martin Luther King, Jr. Recreation Center