A mural created by Athens artist Ronnie Hull pays tribute to his late friend Auriel Callaway
By Joe Johnson
A westside Athens business this weekend will be the site of a tribute to a popular eastsider who was slain outside her home two months ago.
Auriel Briana “Thumpa” Callaway was walking outside her Clarke Gardens apartment the night of July 22 with her 3-year-old son Mason when gunshots rang out from a fight nearby.
Callaway, who was four-months pregnant, reportedly was killed by a bullet fired during the fight as she tried to rush her son to safety.
The death of the amiable 24-year-old woman sparked a grassroots movement that looks to curtail gun violence in Athens, and on Sunday the latest tribute to Callaway will held at Studio 74 Styling Shop at 145 Epps Bridge Road, where a mural of Callaway on a wall of the business will be unveiled.
The work of art, featuring Callaway holding her son, was created by Athens artist Ronnie Hull, one of Callaway’s close friends. Hull creates paintings of loved ones lost to violence across the country and posted on his Facebook page that he was looking for a wall on which to create Callaway’s mural and the owner of Studio 74 offered his building as a canvas.
Members of Athens’ black community each year mourn the loss of some of their youths and young adults to gun violence, but Callaway’s death resonated throughout town in a unique manner.
“Auriel's death was I guess the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back for our community.” said her cousin, Vanessa Gary-Johnson.
Auriel Callaway and her son Mason
The tight-knit neighborhood where Callaway and Gary-Johnson grew up was in the First Street area, where each year about 200 people from across Athens return for a reunion cookout that is hosted on property owned by Callaway’s grandfather.
“Most of us are related either by blood or by marriage and we have stood together for life as just that family," Gary-Johnson said. “So, when Auriel was taken from us we all felt a sense of loss.
“This was shown from the night she was killed with well over 200 people at the hospital, and over 100 daily for an entire week at our side visiting and supporting us at her mother's home, and well over 300 people at the vigil held in her memory,” the slain woman’s cousin said.
“Not that any of the other young people that have been killed senselessly didn't matter, but she belonged to a community that cared and still cares about its own’” Gary-Johnson said. “So, we decided that it was time for us to take our community back and do whatever we could to end this violence.”
There have been previous tributes or initiatives sparked by Callaway’s death, including a gun buy-back sponsored by Callaway’s uncle, Bryant Gantt, and the Athens Anti-Discrimination Movement soon after held the first in a planned series of monthly meetings to discuss strategies to deter local youths from using guns.
AADM’s president, Mokah-Jasmine Johnson, said one goal was to recruit 10 adults from each of Athens’ housing sections and have them regularly convene to devise plans of action.
A Stop the Violence Community Day is scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 21 at the “Iron Triangle” in the Nellie B Avenue - Fairview Street area that is to be hosted by Athens rap artist ‘Lil Red.
“We are serious about our mission to hold on to our communities,” Gary-Johnson said. “We may not save everybody, get every gun, or even reach every young person, but we will make an effort to create a change. It is our goal and mission to re-establish the meaning and value of human life.”
The official “unveiling“ of Callaway’s mural at Studio 74 Styling Shop is scheduled for 2 to 8 p.m. Sunday, and it is advertised as offering “Food, Music & Good Vibes.”