At Brooksville City Hall on February 1, a mural was unveiled to honor a man who was both a Brooksvillian and a national hero. NFL legend and Civil Rights luminary Jerome Brown was captured in the frames of a 5-by-7 mural created on canvas with spray paint and primer by muralist Lakeema Matthew.
This mural was originally intended as an entrant in the Brooksville Main Street Grown in Brooksville mini mural project.
“I have collaborated many times with Pedram Moghaddam, head of The Brooksville Art Gallery at 201. He suggested me for the project, and–in celebration of Black History Month–I was given a list of black luminaries from Brooksville,” said Matthew, a Tampa resident. “My definite choice was Jerome Brown.”
#99 Jerome Brown, a star of the Philadelphia Eagles, died June 25, 1992, from an automobile accident in downtown Brooksville. He is the inspiration behind the Jerome Brown Community Center in Brooksville, where his mural will find a permanent home.
“Jerome Brown played such a major role in the community and in the world,” said Matthew. “He was an NFL player who stood up against the KKK. He was cool.”
The preservation of black history has always been a focus of Matthew’s murals. She began to paint at age 15 as part of the Community Stepping Stones student art project in Tampa. Her work appears in schools, parks, galleries, and other sites throughout Hernando, Hillsborough, and Pasco counties; and in the current Gallery 201 Untold Stories exhibit. She has displayed numerous pieces depicting different aspects and dimensions of the Black experience. One piece depicts Mother Earth, which displays a black woman whose pregnant stomach takes the form of the globe. She also created a piece in reference to the Jackson House, a historical site in Tampa where classic Black musicians such as Ray Charles and Ella Fitzgerald stayed when they performed in Tampa; this owing to the fact, at one time, people of color were not permitted to stay in many hotels.
Underlying all of Matthew’s work is a strong message for children of color. “You have the power to change the world,” she said.
And in regards to the Jerome Brown mural, in particular, Matthew has multiple messages to offer. “For people of color, I want them to know that if you are of African descent, you are great, you are super, and don’t let anyone tell you any different,” she said. “And for people in general, I want them to know that they can accomplish anything they set their mind to. He died when he was 27, and look at all that he accomplished in such a short time.”
Matthew herself learned this lesson when, despite some learning challenges and instances of bullying at school, she went on to earn two art degrees from HCC and USF. She has established a glowing career in the arts; as a muralist and commissioned painter, a percussionist. She performed at the grand opening reception of Untold Stories and at the recent Soul Revival sickle cell anemia fund-raiser in St. Petersburg. Matthew records music under the name Keemba. She is also a graphic designer, a filmmaker, and the founder of an artist creative space known as Creative Lounge LLC. And she has taught art to young people since the age of 17. She is the recipient of three art awards, a scholarship, and a grant, and her work is featured everywhere, from the Ybor Art Gallery to Mazuma Suites AirBnb to Rowlett Park in Tampa.
“I swear I’ve been drawing since the time I left my mama’s womb,” she said with a laugh. “And I always knew that I had to do what I loved, which was art.”
And, in the eyes of Pedram Moghaddam, Matthew excels at her art. “Lakeema Matthew is an inspiration, to say the least. A real artist!” he said. “Her training in studio art is evident in the drive she applies to each project, along with a passion for graphic art. Lakeema’s attention to the impact of identity-based art now stretches among several counties!”
This month was an ideal time to honor Jerome Brown, as Saturday, Feb. 4, marked his birthday, and his team, the Philadelphia Eagles, appeared in the Super Bowl.
“I was so proud to represent him to the community at the mural unveiling,” she said. “People who hadn’t heard of him asked me questions about him. Most people knew him, though. And all they had to say was, ‘Thank you.'”