Your Everyday Heroes has been fortunate to work with Damon Lamar Reed. We were initially drawn to his story because (1) he is simply a talented mural artist, and (2) his work creating downtown Chicago murals serves a purpose higher than himself, something we’ll touch on in a bit. While we by no means consider self-serving art “bad,” we wish to promote work that leaves our audience feeling inspired; Reed far exceeds this criteria.
“One of my taglines is, ‘Create, inspire, and uplift,’” the painter of stunning murals tells us.
The purpose of Reed’s most recent project Still Searching is to lend a voice to a group of women who have had their own voices taken from them. Still Searching is a collection of portraits and downtown Chicago murals of Black women who have gone missing in the Chicagoland area. In Lamar’s own words, “I do it to raise awareness, I do it to bring honor, and I do it to create something beautiful.”
What Makes Damon Lamar Reed An Everyday Hero?
To the families of his the women he paints in his downtown Chicago murals, Damon Lamar Reed is an everyday hero. “Damon is a godsend,” says Shakelia Jackson, the aunt of Yasmin Acree, who was 15 when she went missing in 2008. Her case was largely ignored by the media. But when Reed painted Acree, a flame was reignited in the search for her. Jackson goes on to say of Reed, “God touched him. He used him to wake up everyone.”
Even Chicago’s local government has “woken up” because of Reed’s murals: the city recently gave him a grant that will fund future murals, which will include QR codes that link viewers to details regarding the missing people being portrayed in the murals.
Reed believes that his murals will have a “ripple effect” that can potentially lead to cold cases being solved; with greater attention brought to these missing women through his murals, people who were involved with their disappearances may feel compelled to share information, and police will be more likely to investigate old leads.
This ripple effect is nothing new. For example, because of the popularity of true crime podcast Your Own Backyard, an arrest was recently made in connection with the cold case of Kristen Smart, a California college student who went missing in the late ‘90s. Reed’s murals could absolutely reignite interest in their subjects, leading to arrests or, hopefully, the finding of missing women.
Damon Reed is an everyday hero because he uses his gifts to do good. While we may not all be talented mural artists, we all have skills that can, as Reed puts it, “inspire and uplift.” However, how we use these gifts is our choice. Reed exemplifies the hero that’s within us all.
Why Reed’s Murals Are Necessary
Still Searching murals address a pressing issue that does not get the media coverage it deserves. Outside the realm of true crime “fandom,” missing persons cases are rarely discussed. And sadly, it is easy to see why. They are such a common occurrence that many simply choose to look the other way. According to the National Missing and Unidentified Persons (NamUS) database, more than 600,000 persons of all ages go missing every year. And roughly 4,400 unidentified bodies are recovered every year.
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Chicago in particular has been hit hard with missing persons cases. A quarter of people who go missing in Chicago are young (11 to 21 year-old) Black women. Additionally, Black people of all ages make up two-thirds of the city’s total open missing persons cases. This discrepancy is further reflected in the fact that Black youth are more susceptible to sex trafficking than any other demographic, according to a 2013 study by the Crimes Against Children Research Center.
Without media pressure, law enforcement oftentimes drags its feet in investigating missing people. Therefore, Reed’s murals are not only important, but are necessary. In Reed’s own words, “I want to show the world that, yes, we are still searching, and we’re gonna keep going until we find answers, until we find resolution.”
Who Is Reed’s Hero?
Part of heroism is humbleness. Reed doesn’t attribute the success of his murals only to himself. When we asked him about his personal hero, he was sure to mention his wife Nicole. She is a survivor of lymphoma.
“Through it all, she stayed strong. She remained optimistic,” Reed tells us. Nicole was told that her cancer was terminal; however, her optimism never wavered. Before long, she was no longer in a wheelchair. Then her cancer went into remission.
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“She didn’t tell anybody she had cancer,” Reed says. “During that whole time, she was still helping people, still praying for people.”
Nicole’s ability to remain hopeful even in the darkest of circumstances is reflected in the Still Searching murals project. Just as she was told that her cancer was terminal, many of the families of missing women are told that they will never find their daughters. However, Nicole’s recovery proves that miracles can happen.
Damon Reed may paint some of the best murals in Chicago, but he is more than just a mural artist. He is a public servant, an everyday hero. He has brought about social change with his murals, and this is only the beginning. By spotlighting his story, we hope to contribute to the incredible work he’s been doing. The impact of the Still Searching project will only grow over time.