SAN ANTONIO – While there is a story behind every mural, one located in downtown San Antonio actually tells 33 different stories.
The painted portraits, collectively called “Living In My Skin,” hang on a wall near the Tobin Center at Fourth and Auditorium Circle.
They show the faces of 33 African American men and boys, from the ages of 10 to 90, who all share stories of struggle in San Antonio based on the color of their skin.
“When I was painting these faces, I could feel their pain,” said Lionel Sosa, the man who created the mural. “My attitude toward the lives of black men, it’s changed my life completely and I see things in a very different way.”
Sosa, who was a founding member of what became the largest Hispanic advertising agency in the country, Sosa, Bromley, Aguilar & Associates, also is a renowned artist.
He says he came up with the idea for the display after talking with two friends about the killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis.
Both of those friends are African-American, and Sosa says they opened his eyes to their reality.
“I assumed that things weren’t as tough in San Antonio as they would be other places. But that was an assumption,” he said.
Sosa recruited the 33 men and soon-to-be-men from all walks of life.
Some are professionals, such as doctors and military brass, while the others include students, businessmen, politicians and even a former inmate.
All posed for the paintings with stoic expressions.
They also bared their soles, telling their stories on video.
“It was a therapy session. It helped me to vent, in a sense,” said Harold Williams, a business owner and high school math teacher who was featured in the mural.
Williams says his experiences of being mistreated date back to when he was a boy growing up in Louisiana.
He says he always felt that African Americans got the short end of the stick, simply because of the color of their skin.
“Just thinking about schooling, we know that we had the second-hand stuff,” he said.
The inequality still persists today, Williams says, as shown in the way people of color have been treated by law enforcement officers. “That’s a reality, you know? That’s the reality of black people,” Williams said.
The pictures Sosa painted tell only part of the men’s stories.
Each portrait of them includes a QR code that viewers can scan and watch videos of each person on their phone.
All the videos have been compiled and made into a documentary that aired on local public television and is still available online.
To view it, click here.