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Mural honors Detroit firefighter, other front-line Detroiters killed by COVID-19

The mural honors the memory of front-line workers, including Fire Capt. Franklin Williams, the first Detroit firefighter to die from the virus


Photo/Jasmin Barmore

Jasmin Barmore
Detroit Free Press

DETROIT — The sun shined bright at exactly 2:30 p.m. Sunday afternoon when a brown curtain dropped from the side of the Arabic American and Chaldean Council’s 55 W. 7 Mile Road building in Detroit to unveil a towering Black man in a blue firefighter’s Class A uniform.

Detroit Fire Capt. Franklin Williams, covered with images of Detroit first responders and front line workers, looked out from the wall to face his former workplace: Engine 44, Ladder 18.

The mural, prominently featuring Williams as the first Detroit firefighter to die from COVID-19, was unveiled the day before Memorial Day — a day used to honor service members who died in the line of duty — to honor the memory of front-line workers who died from COVID-19.


A mural honoring front-line workers who died from COVID-19 was unveiled May 30, 2021, at the Arabic American and Chaldean Council’s 55 W. 7 Mile Road building in Detroit.

Photo/Jasmin Barmore

“This mural will stand as a permanent reminder of a man who stayed on the front lines to fight an invisible enemy” said Erick Jones, Detroit Fire Commissioner, at the unveiling Sunday. “Capt. Franklin Williams, along with the men and women of engine 44, ladder 18, chief eight, and the men and women of the Detroit Fire Department stayed on the front lines, despite the unknown thinkers. Some of them became ill, some of them were hospitalized and Franklin made the ultimate sacrifice.”

The Arabic American and Chaldean Council, or ACC, donated the right side of its adult comprehensive financial literacy and employment training facility for the large painting, to show their respect for the victims lost in the line of duty and to honor the memory of Williams, according to the organization’s chief operating officer, Odie Fakhouri. He credited Memorial Day weekend as the perfect time to honor them.

“It is fitting we are gathered here today on Memorial Day weekend honoring those in uniform who fought for our country,” Fakhouri said at the ceremony. “This mural represents community heroes representing those institutions who also fought for our country by putting on a uniform and fighting an unknown enemy: COVID-19.”

Other victims of COVID-19 honored on the mural alongside Williams include: Detroit Police Capt. Johnathan Parnell, whose picture sits on the sleeve of Williams’ jacket, the Detroit Department of Transportation’s Jason Hargrove, whose face appears while driving a bus on the upper part of Williams’ lapel, and the 5-year-old daughter of two Detroit first responders, Skylar Herbert, who is shown as an angel flying out of a church in the mural.

Members of the community, including architect students from University of Detroit Mercy volunteered their time to complete the mural. But, Detroit native and well-known street muralist, Chazz, was hired by the ACC for the lead and creation of the project, said to Fakhouri.

Detroit City Councilman Roy McCalister moderated the event, noting a special thanks to the Home Depot and Meijer store in his district who donated the paint and supplies needed to bring the mural to life.

Moments before the unveiling, family and friends of the victims gathered together in front of the Engine 44 Fire Station.

Williams’ wife, Shanita Williams and Skylar’s parents, Detroit firefighter Ebbie Herbert and Detroit Police Officer, LaVondria Herbert, all attended the ceremony.

When called on to speak by Detroit Fire Commissioner Erick Jones, Shanita Williams fought back tears while trying to thank the community for the tribute. She also gave special insight on the last days she spent with her husband.

“March 24th, 2020, he got up at 3 o’clock in the morning and said to me, ‘I feel like I’m coming down with something, I’m going to go to the guest room,’” Shanita Williams said while tears rolled down both sides of her face. “That something was COVID-19 ... and two weeks later he was gone and we’re here today.”

Skylar’s mother also thanked the community for the tribute to her daughter. She credited the sun shining so bright as a representation that Skylar was present in the moment.

“Whenever I come out to speak, the sun is always shining” LaVondria Herbert said. “My baby always shined, and I always said my baby was going to be a star anyway. And if she was here, her picture would be on a wall at some point, somewhere, shining for something she was known for.”

“So, I know that whenever we have something to do to honor her she is always here, because the sun is always shining.”

Jasmin Barmore is born and raised in the city of Detroit. She covers the city’s neighborhoods and communities using her passion as her drive to give the voiceless a voice. You can reach her at or by sending her a message on Instagram or Twitter at @bjasminmare.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Mural honors Detroit firefighter, other front-line Detroiters killed by COVID-19


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