Four times the mural of President Obama was vandalized; and four times Marcus and Melvinie Davis and Reginald and Rhonda Radford Adams brought it back to life. The perseverance of two extraordinary black couples, who led their Houston community to stand against vestigial white hatred, is On Our Radar.
Marcus and Melvinie Davis are an American success story. They are the kind of people you hope to have living next door. Together they found a need – a place to gather for a “soulful” breakfast in Houston, Texas – and they filled it. In 2001, they opened their Breakfast Klub restaurant with a menu centered around two signature dishes, waffles and wings, and katfish (yes, with a “k”) and grits. Over the years The Breakfast Klub has been lauded by national sources like USA Today and Good Morning America for serving one of the best breakfasts in the country.
Marcus and Melvinie followed up the success of The Breakfast Klub, by acquiring a second restaurant, The Reggae Hut, a longtime presence in Houston’s Third Ward. They renovated and updated, applied the lessons they learned from the success of The Breakfast Klub, and and in 2006 reopened The Reggae Hut, which serves Caribbean food, with a new menu, and a new vibe. Self-deprecating Marcus teases on his Facebook page that he is a cook and dishwasher. But with the acquisition of a second restaurant, Marcus and Melvinie became tbk Holdings.
On paper, Marcus and Melvinie would be a conservative’s dream couple. They are the kind of people who value family. Together they raised three daughters and a son. Marcus calls his late father Jerry, who helped launch The Breakfast Klub, the best cook he’s ever known, and reveres the great-grandmother who taught his father her culinary secrets. Melvinie, who friends call “the backbone of The Breakfast Klub,” insists every patron be greeted on the way in, and the way out, the way you would treat family, whether they are lawyers and judges from the nearby courthouse who regularly gather there, or college students, who frequently come to take advantage of the Breakfast Klub’s affordable menu and its offer of a bottomless cup of coffee.
Like any good conservative would do, Marcus is quick to credit Jesus for his success, sometimes speaking of his restaurants as a “ministry” and “a testament to what God can do.” He is even a gun owner. Marcus and Melvinie seem to have all the traits necessary to endear them to conservatives save one – but it’s a big one. Marcus and Melvinie are ardent supporters of President Obama.
Back in 2008, when then-Senator Obama was running for election, Marcus decided to express his admiration in a big way, and when I say “big way,” I mean that literally. Marcus commissioned a mural of Barack Obama’s famous HOPE poster to be painted on the building across the street from the Breakfast Klub. For his mural, Marcus turned to the Museum of Cultural Arts Houston, (MOCAH), and the amazing artists who infuse it with their spirits, Reginald Charles Adams and his wife Rhonda Radford Adams.
If you want Marcus and Melvinie Davis living next door, you want Reginald and Rhonda living on the other side. The couple look like they could have sprung from a Hollywood movie. They founded MOCAH together in 1999 as a nonprofit group, dependent on grants and donations. It may have seemed like a long shot, but they have never wobbled in their dream. MOCAH has only grown in size and stature, in recognition, and in the number of volunteers and allies who are staunch supporters of their mission to reclaim the urban areas of the Houston area through community art projects. Art does not seem to be a job to the Adams, so much as it is the foundation of their lives. The couple have a beautiful young son they have included in their artistic adventures, bringing great beauty to places you would never think to look for it.
Marcus and Melvinie turned to Reginald and Rhonda to paint a mural of Barack Obama across from The Breakfast Klub, in October of 2008, a month before the first Obama election. It was a great success, well received by the community, until March 2010 when someone despoiled it with graffiti. Fortunately, the damage was minimal, and Reginald was able to restore it. Then in September, the mural was attacked again, this time with red, white, and blue paint. Once again, Marcus had Reginald rescue the mural.
The Breakfast Klub mural of President Obama remained untouched for two years. Marcus had reason to hope time had cured whatever ill-will had incited the vandals to their crime, but in October 2012, just before the second Obama election, it was hit by red paint. This time, it was damaged so badly it could not be repaired.
Marcus responded by commissioning a new image. Fortunately Reginald had artwork already prepared for another Obama pose that he had not yet found the right site for. He put everything on hold while he prepared the new mural. On the night of one of the Obama/Romney debates, Marcus threw a painting party, and volunteers from MOCAH and from The Breakfast Klub went to work on Reginald’s sketch, like a giant paint by number. The new mural was an immediate neighborhood attraction.
The replacement mural depicted the president in sort of an “Uncle Sam Wants You” pose, pointing at the viewer. It became an immediate hit. Visitors to The Breakfast Klub began taking their picture next to the mural, imitating President Obama’s intense pose. And by the way, this time, while Reginald worked on the new mural, Marcus installed security.
The mural was attacked again in January 2012, but this time security cameras recorded the entire event. A middle aged white man on a bicycle with two buckets of paint, one yellow, one black, splattered them across the new mural. Marcus was sure it was the same man who had ridden by during the painting party shouting “Obama is a murderer.”
The second mural was damaged beyond repair in the attack, but Marcus and Reginald would not give up. “There is an endless supply of paint in the world.” Marcus replied when asked if he and Melvinie would continue to restore the damaged murals. This time, Marcus commissioned an even larger work, with the president depicted holding a baby. Reginald set to work on yet another mural while Marcus and Melvinie and Rhonda organized volunteers for a painting event February 13, determined more than ever that art, and the spirit of community it was meant to engender, would not bow to hatred.
The paint on the new mural was barely dry when Marcus, driving by around 7:45 on a Sunday evening,(The breakfast Klub closes at 2:oo P.M.,) noticed a man on a bike, lurking in the parking lot near the painting. As he approached, Marcus could see an open can of fuchsia colored paint. Surely, this was their man!
When confronted, the man tried to run. Marcus tackled him. He could have beaten the man. He could have threatened him with a gun. Hell, in some states Marcus probably could have shot him and claimed he was in fear for his life. I am ashamed to admit that in his place, I might have considered dumping that open can of paint over the head of a man who had so grievously wronged me. Marcus, however merely detained him until the police arrived. It must have been quite a disappointment when the responding officers refused to arrest the man, telling Marcus it is not against the law to be near the mural with an open can of paint.
This is the kind of Catch-22 that gives citizens fits. Had Marcus waited for the man to actually damage the mural, the vandal could be arrested, but since Marcus acted to prevent any damage, the man was allowed to ride away on his bike, leaving the bucket of fuschia paint to remember him by. But now police had his name.
Detectives followed up on the man on his bicycle. From Marcus’ security recordings, they were able to identify the mural vandal as the same man Marcus tackled. Michael Kroetsch, a 58 year-old white man was charged with felonious criminal mischief for the damage to the mural done in the attack last January. There is a LinkedIn account for someone named Michael Dale Kroetsch that says he is the “Manager at Affordable Painting Destruction.” I’d love to know if some merry prankster posted that after he was identified, or if Kroetsch is a man so filled with inner glee by his attacks that some part of him wanted to take credit for his crime. I suppose he couldn’t want too much recognition, as I write this, Mr. Kroetsch is avoiding being taken into custody.
It would be hard not to notice how perfect a metaphor the saga of the mural is for the Obama presidency. How many times have his detractors thrown “paint” on the President, and how many times has he brushed himself off, and come back even stronger? It’s also hard not to wonder how a grown man like Michael Kroetsch becomes so enraged he feels compelled to ruin a piece of art as a solution. But today, I’d like our thoughts to go to Marcus and Melvinie Davis, and to Reginald and Rhonda Adams, and to every volunteer who came to restore what Michael Kroetsch foolishly thought he could destroy. Today, the power of a determined community to stand up to hatred, is On Our Radar.
Feature Flag Image is one of many beautiful works of art found on The Museum of Cultural Arts Houston’s Facebook Page.
Other images are from the Facebook pages of Marcus Davis and Reginald Charles Adams
Jean Ann Esselink is a straight friend to the gay community. Proud and loud Liberal. Closet writer of political fiction. Black sheep agnostic Democrat from a conservative Catholic family. Living in Northern Oakland County Michigan with Puck the Wonder Beagle.
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