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Racial Concerns Surround Vanderbilt Mural - John Dunn

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Changes are coming to a mural near Vanderbilt University after students raise concerns. The mural depicts some of Vanderbilt's well-known coaches, and some say the portrait of football coach Derek Mason is racially insensitive. Now, the artist has agreed to repaint the coach's face.

If you drive down West End Avenue, you have likely seen the mural on the wall at 28 Avenue South. Vanderbilt's football, baseball, and basketball coaches have been depicted here for more than 20 years. Now, the face of new football coach Derek Mason is causing concern. "We felt like a prominent African American figure on Vanderbilt's campus shouldn't be portrayed in that way," says Josh Everett with Vanderbilt's NAACP.

Vanderbilt's NAACP first raised concerns about the portrait. It believes Coach Mason's skin is painted unrealistically dark, and his lips appear white. Some students say it's reminiscent of the minstrels era. "I don't feel as though it was done intentionally, but it very much harkens back to those times," says Akailah Jenkins with Vanderbilt's NAACP.

FOX 17 News contacted artist Michael Cooper. Cooper painted from a photograph of Coach Mason, and says he wants the mural to be positive for the community. He is now preparing to repaint the portrait.

Not everyone has problems with the depiction. Danielle Fairweather compared the mural to another picture of the coach. "I think the artist did a good job. It looks like a pretty talented painting to me," says Fairweather.

Vanderbilt's NAACP started a petition to get the mural changed, especially since the mural is seen by so many people. "The face of Vanderbilt should not be something that's reminiscent of racial archetypes," says Jenkins.

Students are glad the artist is planning a redo. They hope it makes the mural a source of pride for all. "The more you let it fester, the worse it becomes," says Josh Everett.

Coach Mason has also said that he does not feel the painting is an accurate depiction of himself.
Artist Michael Cooper says the painting will be redone sooner rather than later. He hopes to meet Coach Mason personally, and even take a few of his own pictures before he repaints.

For news updates follow John Dunn on twitter @WZTVJohnDunn

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