ATLANTA — The No. 7 on a Falcons uniform is a number that resonates with Atlanta sports fans as much as the No. 10 on a Braves uniform. Michael Vick and Chipper Jones immediately come to mind, and immediately strike memories Atlantans hold near and dear to their hearts.
So when a Colin Kaepernick mural popped up after two days of work on the corner of Lowery and Fair streets in the West End with him wearing the No. 7, it was surprising, but welcomed.
The artist behind the art is Fabian Williams. As he was painting the mural, people were non-stop honking their horns, almost getting into accidents, and raising fists in support.
“I’ve gotten nothing but love,” he told SB Nation.
Williams believes that Atlanta’s history with black civil rights leaders like Martin Luther King Jr., John Lewis, Andrew Young, Ralph Abernathy, and many others would make the city a fitting destination for Kaepernick.
“His stance lines up with Atlanta’s civil rights history, and so if anything his presence here would be a good fit, just because of Atlanta’s legacy outside of his ability as a quarterback.”
It’s obvious that with the reigning MVP in Matt Ryan, Kaepernick won’t be coming to Atlanta anytime soon, barring an injury to Ryan (and being the team to finally step up and sign him). Even if that’s the case, it’s not necessarily what the art is about, or why it should be disregarded.
Williams has been using art as an outlet, similar to people who work out to relieve stress. He had a successful career in advertising as a graphic designer and art director, working with Nike, Warner Bros, HBO, and more — yet he wasn’t satisfied. He was working on major campaigns, making good money, and in his own words, “I was miserable.” Williams also found himself arguing online, and questioned why he was doing that to himself.
“I felt like I wasn’t being effective in swaying people or making people see things differently, so it occurred to me I should start speaking to the artwork and reduce the amount of time I’m typing words.”
Williams decided to use the training he got from illustrations to organize his thoughts, and started hanging around artists more to express himself. He turned art into his full time job. Being able to put the ideas in his mind and heart, then translate them to a canvas, became an escape for him, and more valuable than what dollars and cents had to offer.
“There’s something about catching someone who doesn’t expect to get caught,” he said of people who pull up on his artwork. “There’s power in that.”
As cars pulled up to the light where Lowery meets Fair, drivers took pictures, passengers pointed, and pedestrians stopped to observe, finding joy in the perfect touch Williams put on the mural. Near his signature on the building, Williams drew an arrow to the other side of the corner, where it reads, “heroes don’t wear capes.”
He felt the need to express himself with Kaepernick. He came up on the building and saw it as a blank canvas, realizing on accident the location was near Clark Atlanta University, Spelman, and Morehouse. It worked out just the way he wanted.
“I feel like the work also needs to reflect the people that are there,” Williams said.
His goal was to do it near Mercedes-Benz Stadium, but he couldn’t find a property he would have been able to paint on. Regardless, Williams found a place to make it work, and made the West End a little more beautiful, which is one of his purposes.
“We should be beautifying our own neighborhoods,” he said. “We need to do it for ourselves.”
Kaepernick’s protest, like it did for countless others, was impactful for Williams and struck a nerve. It reinforced his belief that if somebody makes a stand for something, they should hold their ground, and “history will remember you the way it’s supposed to.”
“I feel a lot of people are going to regret their positions,” he said.
Kaepernick said that Atlanta was the most receptive to his protest. Whether or not he became a member of the Falcons is beside the point of the mural. He has stood up for many in the city, and across the country. If Atlantans can admire a piece of art displaying him in our colors, we’re gonna support that. If he somehow became a Falcon, that’s great too.
But Kaepernick is more than a football player — he’s a hero similar to those Atlanta has seen throughout time.