Will Smith Reacts To The 65′ Mural Of Him Made For A West Philadelphia School (Video)
Will Smith name-checking West Philadelphia in the theme song to The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air took a city section with a rich history, a vibrant culture, and a no-nonsense reputation and made it known—at least by name—in the mainstream. From the Overbrook neighborhood, Smith and business partner James Lassiter named their production company after the part of town around Lancaster Avenue.
Although Smith moved his career and family to Southern California decades ago, the 49-year-old Overbrook High School graduate regularly returns home for work and pleasure. These days Will and his wife, Jada Pinkett-Smith, own a stake in the Philadelphia 76ers basketball team, among other ventures.
This year, a 65-feet-tall mural portrait of Smith was painted by London, England artist Richard Wilson, not far from where the MC-turned-actor/film producer grew up. Across a lot facing West Philadelphia’s Global Leadership Academy Charter School, the mural shows Will in a suit and Air Jordan sneakers.
In a video Smith released (with proceeds going to the school and artist), the mogul describes the impact of seeing a Julius Erving mural (by artist Kent Twitchell) on Ridge Avenue. “Dr. J was everything in Philly. I remember how inspired it made me to see him on the wall, what that did to ignite that fire and desire for elevation,” he says. Philadelphia boasts more than 4,000 murals, according to Philly Voice. “The idea that there would be a mural of me on the side of a school in West Philadelphia just wrecked me,” admits Smith.
“It’s just a 65-foot symbol of ‘you can do anything you want to do,'” muralist Richard Wilson told Philadelphia’s CBS 3. The school, located on West Girard Avenue, is in the heart of the West Philly community. The mural is painted on the Gevurtz Furniture building. Wilson acknowledges the visual reference to Kehinde Wiley’s portrait of President Barack Obama. Both Smith and Obama are portrayed as seated, dressed in tie-less suits, and surrounded by flora.
“If you’re a kid growing up here now, and you see this every day, it can give you a real understanding that ‘this guy is me. He had the same chances as me, the same possibilities as me, the same everything and he’s being painted on a wall because he’s done something incredible with his life,” Wilson proclaims. School officials and community members agree, as seen in the video.
In the vignette, Smith explains the family values he was taught, and how it relates to the monumental gesture by the artist. Carolyn Smith, Will’s mother, appears—and says she is choked up by the significance of seeing her son’s image on the side of one of the tallest available buildings in the city section. DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince’s longtime friend Charlie Mack also appears in the video.
In gratitude to the artist and the school, Smith (who has nearly 2.5 million YouTube subscribers) is donating the revenue related to the video to both parties.
Although the renowned Philadelphia Mural Arts reportedly helped connect Wilson and the school, the mural was created independently. Previously, Wilson has painted murals of A Tribe Called Quest, Roy Ayers, Nina Simone, Stevie Wonder, and Fela Kuti.