An artful dedication

March 31, 2009|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

The image of a man who championed Pennsylvania Avenue now looks down on the street he supported through years of teaching and advocacy.

Nearly 100 people gathered at noon Monday to honor Alvin "Kirby" Brunson, who died a year ago at age 49 when the Wilson Street rowhouse he was renovating to become a community cultural center collapsed. Brunson worked for years to promote the history and culture of what was once Baltimore's largest African-American arts and entertainment district.

"He loved this neighborhood," said his father, Abraham Brunson, who attended the ceremony with his wife, Ernestine. "I took him to the Royal Theatre when he was a child," his father said, referring to one of the street's best-known landmarks.

The mural, which can be viewed from the northbound lanes of Pennsylvania Avenue near Bloom Street, was painted on the side of a liquor business. It depicts Brunson surrounded by those who made Pennsylvania Avenue great: DJ Paul "Fat Daddy" Johnson; singer Billie Holiday; comedian Redd Foxx; and Al Brown, lead singer of the Tune Toppers, who helped popularize the Madison as a dance step in the early 1960s.

"Alvin was an innovative person who loved to talk about the positive side of Baltimore," said a childhood friend, Courtland Shields. "He wanted people to understand it was not always the way it is now."

The mural's artist, Donald "Doc. Toonz" Tyson-Bey, 30, said he became acquainted with the street when he lived nearby.

"It was a shock to hear people talk about the street and reminisce about how rich it was," Tyson-Bey said. "People came up when I was painting it and cried."

Osborne B. Dixon Jr., who spoke at the event, recalled Pennsylvania Avenue in the '60s and '70s, when urban renewal programs let the government condemn and demolish some businesses. "The prevailing winds went against reason, and that's why there is a dusty playground on the Royal Theatre site," he said.

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