Today in street art: Arshaad Norwood’s journey from family trauma to life in art

For over a decade, art educator Arshaad Norwood has adorned Atlanta with murals, but his journey to becoming the muralist he is today was far from easy.

His newest mural project reflects his journey from a teen in foster care to a successful artist and art educator at Westlake High School.

The mural’s theme is “Loving People, Loving People” and the creative process has been much more emotionally intense than his previous projects. That’s because the mural was commissioned by Christian City, the foster care campus in Union City where Norwood lived as a teenager.

“This whole process has been a spiritual journey,” Norwood said. “What brought me to foster care wasn’t loving people, it was trauma and family separation. My mother passed away on Mother’s Day. It was very traumatizing. That led to me going to my dad’s house, then my grandma’s house, then Christian City. Working on this mural made me think about all this stuff again. Having to reflect on that was jarring.”

Arshaad Norwood
Norwood stands in front of the mural he painted on the Uptown Comedy Corner building.

After working through past family trauma with counseling and the help of friends in foster care, Norwood went on to graduate from high school and college.

His love of painting developed in high school, where he experimented with watercolors, oil and acrylics. He completed his first mural before graduating. It was a French dining scene, commissioned by a friend’s parent, which Norwood painted by hand on a wall at his foster care campus.

After graduating from LaGrange College with a degree in art and design, he moved to Atlanta and looked for art opportunities. His first public art piece was the mural which he completed in 2009 on the side of the Uptown Comedy Corner building in downtown Atlanta.

“At that time, this was the only mural on Marietta Street in the heart of Atlanta,” Norwood said. “It was the comedy club I took my wife to for our first date . . . so when I got that opportunity, it was significant. I was excited.”

Throughout the years, Norwood’s work has celebrated Black excellence. His paintings often depict well-known Black political figures like Barack Obama, John Lewis, Huey Newton and entertainers such as Whitney Houston and Bob Marley.

Arshaad Norwood
Norwood at work on a painting.

He also painted a mural featuring National Football League star Colin Kaepernick as a part of a series of murals highlighting the activist athlete.

Fabian Williams created a Kaepernick mural in 2017, but it was demolished with its host building in 2019. Shortly after, leading up to the 2019 Super Bowl in Atlanta, Williams commissioned artists to create nine more murals around the city. As a part of this initiative, Norwood assisted artist Muhammad Yungai on the Kaepernick mural at Sister Louisa’s Church bar on Edgewood Avenue.

“I feel it’s my duty as a leader in the community and as a person with a platform to share what’s going on in the community and empower people,” Norwood said. “As a teacher, I wouldn’t be who I am if I didn’t help people overcome, find strength during hard times, be aware of the world around them and think critically.”

Norwood plans to start painting the Christian City mural in October, working at the site three times a week until Thanksgiving break. After this, Norwood will lead teams on the weekends until the mural is finished, by the first week of February at the latest, he said.

He describes the process of creation and reflection as healing and hopes the mural will inspire all those who see it. Student groups and community organizations have volunteered to help paint the mural, including some kids living in foster care at the campus.

“I want every foster kid to feel like this is their opportunity to celebrate their wins,” Norwood said. “People have told me over the years they look up to me because I represent the foster kids, the folks that people forgot. The dreamers. The kid with the big wishes. I take pride in knowing this is what I represent, and I’m going to keep doing it.”


Luke Gardner is an Atlanta-based journalist with a history of covering the arts. Luke is passionate about serving local communities and celebrating marginalized identities. 

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