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Local Artists Collaborate On Miami Mural Paying Tribute To Bar's Beloved Late Bouncer

A downtown Miami bar’s beloved late bouncer still watches over the establishment — from a mural across the street.

Towering stories-high on a building straddling NW 11th St. and N. Miami Ave., a mural depicts Arial Mayo’s face, smile full of gold teeth. Below, his nickname, “Black,” is spray painted in blocky letters, along with his date of birth and the day he died of a heart attack at 35.

The tribute was executed just days after Black’s death last June, as both his large biological family and a second family of co-workers and regular patrons at The Corner reeled in a haze of grief. The project came together as an accidental collaboration of four local creatives: a photographer, two painters and a graffiti artist.

The mural permeates The Corner. It peeks through the horizontal-slatted blinds covering the watering hole’s windows. Patrons order drinks from the sidewalk through a classic Miami ventanita; when viewed from inside, the window becomes a frame. Illuminated by street lights, the image is a vibrant focal point for people sitting at small tables and benches lined up outside the door.

To Black’s brother and former co-worker at the bar, it’s both a touching memorial and a bittersweet symbol of loss.

“It's tough at times,” Keyon Mayo said. “You sit outside, you have a cigarette or a drink, you just look up, and then, boom! Your brother, right in your face.

“I don't know if a lot of people really understand what it's like to lose somebody so close to you. It's not the easiest thing in the world to just say that you can move on with your life. And it’s still super fresh,” he said. “So the mural was amazing. But, sometimes it kind of gets to me, because it’s a constant reminder that my brother is no longer here. And I have to see his face every day.”

Credit Jessica Bakeman / WLRN
A mural on the corner of 11th Street and North Miami Avenue in downtown Miami serves as a memorial for Arial Mayo, who worked at the bar The Corner across the street. The tribute is a collaboration of local artists.

Keyon is a year younger than Black, and the two of them were especially close among their father’s two dozen children — 18 boys and six girls. They grew up together in Overtown with some of their siblings and found others later in life.

”Obviously, all of us black. But when we was younger, Black was the blackest one out of the brothers. He was the darkest,” Keyon said. “Black was the only baby my mom had — my dad told her — that came out black.”

As kids, Keyon and some of his brothers formed a rap group — the Rapping Mayos — and performed for their neighbors. One night, when they were 9 and 10, they brainstormed rap names for each other.

“It was really, really dark outside, and nobody could see Black,” Keyon said. “It was like, where’s Black? You look around, and the only thing you can see is the teeth. It be like, ‘Damn boy, you black.’

“And he was like, ‘That’s my name: Black.’ And it’s been Black ever since.”

Keyon is one of The Corner’s few employees who has been working there since the bar opened in 2011. He started as a cook and was later promoted to bar manager. He helped Black get a job there — at first, also making sandwiches.

In the early years, they sometimes worked together in the bar’s tiny kitchen, with bartenders squeezing in and out to grab beers from a walk-in refrigerator. They experimented with making off-menu items for each other. Black’s favorite was a bacon and egg sandwich, no cheese.

But it was in his later position as a security guard that Black thrived.

”He protected the bar like it was his house,” Keyon said.

Credit Jessica Bakeman / WLRN
Keyon Mayo poses with the mural of his brother, Arial, who died in June of a heart attack at 35.

Black's shift started at 11 p.m., and he often worked until long after dawn.

“When he came in, everybody’s moods changed. Everybody’s demeanor,” Keyon said.

He would bust through the doors and immediately burst into song — often “I Wanna Rock (Doo Doo Brown)” by the rapper Luther Campbell, known as Luke.

“Everybody would start dancing,” Keyon said. “The minute he come in, he’s got to say something to get the whole bar’s attention — everybody that’s even here just sitting down, eating. He want everybody to know … that he here.”

Until one night, 11 p.m. came, and Black wasn’t there. It wasn’t like Black to not show up. Keyon was worried. Another brother found him at his home later. He’d died of a heart attack, leaving not only his siblings but also four children and their mother behind.

The loss hit The Corner hard.

“It was really a punch in the gut, and I think everybody took it that way. It didn’t seem real,” said Magnus Sodamin, a local painter who often hangs out at the bar. “Downtown, or this area, is kind of forgotten and has a strange energy at times. So it takes strong people in this community that can connect bridges. … He was a protector of this place.”

Shortly after Black’s death, Sodamin was having a beer at The Corner, talking with the bar’s owner, Chris MacLeod. Sodamin offered to paint a mural. MacLeod got permission from the owner of the building across the street and paid for a lift and the materials.

Credit Provided by Chris MacLeod
Provided by Chris MacLeod
Above, artist Magnus Sodamin poses with the photo he used as a reference for a mural memorializing Arial Mayo. Below, Sodamin and fellow artist Jose Felix Perez use a lift to paint the mural.

But first, Sodamin needed a photo. That’s where Sharif Salem came in.

A London native who has lived in Miami for two decades, Salem is a street art and portrait photographer who first garnered attention for his shots of abandoned couches on the streets of Little Havana.

Last fall, he was partying with friends and ended up at The Corner at about 5 a.m. on a Sunday. It was his third stop of the night-turned-early-morning. He encountered Black, who was standing outside the bar with some customers. They hadn’t met before.

Salem snapped a picture: a portrait of Black leaning backwards with light shining off his cheeks and eyelids and reflecting off his gold teeth.

Salem printed the photo two feet by three feet and used wheatpaste to adhere it to wood. He included it in an art show and, afterward, gave it to Black.

When Black died, Salem posted a memorial for Black on Facebook and included the photo. Sodamin chose it for the mural, reimagining the light on Black’s face with white paint.

“I didn't want him to disappear in the wall, so I … did, like, an inverse of the portrait itself," Sodamin said. "The painting actually changed a lot from the original photograph. But I feel like that's what kind of makes it so loose and kind of alive.”

He and his friend and fellow artist Jose Felix Perez put up the mural in only about three hours — while Black’s family watched from the bar across the street. They painted it on the day of Black’s memorial service.

Credit Jessica Bakeman / WLRN
Above, artist Magnus Sodamin poses with a mural he painted of Arial Mayo. Below, Adam Vargas, also known as Atomik, puts the finishing touches on text below the mural.

For the text on the mural, Sodamin recommended Adam Vargas, also known as Atomik. The graffiti artist is known for his smiling oranges, which are modeled after Obie, the mascot of the Miami Orange Bowl. He created the design as a response to the stadium’s demolition in 2008.

The way Atomik and Black met was true to character for both of them. Atomik climbed a light pole near The Corner to put up stickers and spray paint his name on the building while Black was working security.

“He reprimanded me,” Atomik said, “and was like, ‘Yo, you got to chill out, dude, because you're just, like, climbing all over this place and writing on things, and it's not cool.’”

Years later, Atomik spray painted Black’s name instead — on the mural memorializing him.

“I hope this mural stands the test of time,” Atomik said. “I'm sure that, eventually, one day, this building is going to get demolished, and a high rise will go up or a shopping center or … a parking garage. Who knows what's going to happen right here?

"But I personally believe that this mural will stand until the building falls.”

Credit Lily Oppenheimer / WLRN
The mural honoring Arial Mayo shines through a window behind the bar at The Corner.

Jessica Bakeman is Director of Enterprise Journalism at WLRN News, and she is the former senior news editor and education reporter. Her 2021 project "Class of COVID-19" won a national Edward R. Murrow Award.
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