By Alex Garcia
Sun Contributing Writer
Drivers exiting the 405 freeway on Victory Boulevard will notice a newly painted mural along Haskell Avenue showing white doves, a city landscape and the portrait of a smiling man with glasses against a typewriter. A phrase in the mural states “I am Jewish.”
Those are the last words reportedly spoken by Daniel Pearl, a Wall Street Journal reporter who was kidnapped in Pakistan in 2002 and executed by terrorists.
Pearl, born in Encino, attended Birmingham High School in Lake Balboa where a magnet school — Daniel Pearl Magnet High School — was open three years ago. The school focuses on journalism and communication.
Pearl was also a noted musician, and Daniel Pearl World Music Days have been held worldwide since 2002, and have promoted more than 1,500 concerts in more than 60 countries. World Music Day is held at Daniel Pearl Magnet High School on Pearl’s birthday, Oct. 10.
Students from the school, along with Los Angeles Police West Valley cadets, spent the Memorial Day holiday weekend working on the mural along with renowned muralist Levi Ponce, famous for painting numerous walls along Van Nuys Boulevard in Pacoima in what is now known as the “Mural Mile.”
“He (Daniel Pearl) is part of our history and we wanted to preserve it,” said 16-year-old Jennifer Sahakian, a junior at the high school who was one of four students tasked with designing the mural.
Initially Sahakian, junior Sheena Gonzalez, 16, and seniors Megan Ford and Dianne Villalta, both 18, drew individual designs as part of a competition to design the mural. Their only guide was the mural’s theme: “Freedom of speech is freedom.”
But once they turned in their work, the Lake Balboa Neighborhood Council — which organized the competition — couldn’t decide on a single winner and decided to combine them all into the mural.
“It was difficult to combine all the elements we had, but we got to work with one another,” Sahakian said.
“We had to redo our designs twice, to adjust to the scale,” noted Villalta.
“We had to work on it during school hours. We had to miss a couple of classes,” Gonzalez said.
The result is a 65-feet mural with Pearl’s portrait as the center piece, vivid colors and several inspirational words.
“It will catch people’s eyes,” Ford said.
And that’s the point, so that those who don’t recognize Pearl will perhaps learn about his life and what he stood for.
“He reminds us that we are free to speak our minds, which is what Danny did,” Ford said. “He spoke his mind and yet he got killed.”
“It’s a wish that people won’t be killed for the words they express,” she added.
For Pearl Magnet Principal Deb Smith, the mural and its message of freedom comes at the right time.
“It’s timely to have his image and try to send a message of peace and understanding with all these journalists killed by ISIS,” she said.
This is the third year the Lake Balboa Neighborhood Council had a mural painted along Haskell Avenue ,and this year they wanted to honor Pearl. That the mural was painted over the Memorial Day weekend was not just a coincidence.
Linda Gravani, Lake Balboa Neighborhood Council president, said that journalists killed in the midst of conflicts also give their lives for freedom just like military members.
“Everybody remembers those that gave their life in service to this country. But there are a lot of citizens that also gave their lives for freedom, like Daniel Pearl, and we want to honor him also,” she said.
Gravani added this mural, and two others next to it painted by students at two other schools in the area, also want to send a message to motorists passing through the area that they are entering Lake Balboa, instead of just seeing a drab looking fence.
There are plans this summer to paint the rest of the fences still without color along this stretch of Haskell Avenue, said Ponce, who served as mentor and overseer for the project.
“I teach them the tools and the methods for mural painting. I helped them transfer their designs to the wall,” Ponce said.
A design that, hopefully, will remind people that freedom sometimes comes at a high price.