ST. THOMAS — Austin Petersen and Kuumba Ola-Niyi spend their Saturdays working on what they call their “passion project,” refreshing and updating the “Welcome to Black Utopia Lane” mural.
Petersen and Ola-Niyi, both retired teachers, created the original mural on a 200-foot-long retaining wall along Weymouth Rhymer Highway near the Caribbean Auto Mart nearly 40 years ago.
“It’s a passion project for us,” Ola-Niyi said as he mixed paints — pinks, greens, blues and browns — that he would use to retouch a section of the mural.
“We first did this in 1982, and we try to change things up every so often,” he said. “But it’s been a while since the last update — 2013, I think.”
Petersen and Ola-Niyi get help with their work — local stores donate the paint and supplies, and motorists frequently stop to drop cash in a box labeled “Donations.”
They also have volunteers helping, such as Daniel Gayle, a former student of Ola-Niyi’s who has taken part in the project since he was 13 years old.
“[Ola-Niyi] got me interested in it, and I’ve helped them ever since,” said Gayle, now 33. “He’s right — it is a passion project.”