African Inspired ‘Black Panther’ salute gallops into Sunnydale
Jade Williams, an Oakland School for the Arts fashion design student, carefully crisscrossed each strand of hair until the long braid was finished. Turquoise, white and yellow beads were added until the dark mane was filled with decoration, making a gentle clattering sound as they struck together.
Brianna Noble, left, her friend Dale Johnson, and Noble’s sister Brittany Lewis, ride their horses through the Sunnydale neighborhood clad in their “Black Panther” inspired costumes during a socially distanced Halloween event on Friday, October 30, 2020, in San Francisco, Calif. Noble is the founder and owner of Mulatto Meadows, an equestrian business.
Noble brought three horses to the Sunnydale Boys & Girls Club for a socially distanced Halloween event. The horses were outfitted in costumes in tribute to the movie ÒBlack PantherÓ and its Afro-futurist style by students in the fashion design program at the Oakland School of the Arts, where Noble attended high school. Noble was already a figure in the community before her viral fame for bringing her horses to the area, her sister Brittany Lewis is a San Francisco police officer in the Sunnydale neighborhood.
It was the high school freshman’s first time styling a horse, and the animal was surprisingly patient during the hour-long process.
“They’re really well behaved,” Linda Ricciardi, the school’s fashion design chair, said of the three horses her students were grooming, dressing and painting on Friday in a vacant lot above San Francisco’s Sunnydale neighborhood. “We’re excited to be a part of this, it’s been something positive the students have been looking forward to all month since Bri approached us with the project.”
The project was designing and constructing costumes for three riders and their horses in the Afro-futurist style of the movie “Black Panther,” which is as known as much for its Academy Award-winning fashion by Ruth E. Carter as it is for its groundbreaking depiction of Black superheroes. Brianna Noble, founder of the nonprofit horse education program Humble, invited the school to be part of Sunnydale’s Community Day Halloween celebration once she knew this year’s ride would be celebrating the comic book blockbuster and its star, the late actor Chadwick Boseman.
Noble is an alumna of the arts school and is well-known in the community after a photo of her riding her horse ahead of the downtown Oakland protests over the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd went viral in May.
“When ‘Black Panther’ came out, I watched it five times,” said Williams, the first-year student. “I knew I wanted to tie Black Lives Matter and Black history into my costume designs.”
For the second year, Noble and her sister, Brittany Lewis, brought horses to the neighborhood for a festive ride down Sunnydale Avenue. They were joined by a third rider, Dale Johnson, with all three equestrians and their mounts decked-out in full Wakanda style. Wakanda is the fictional country where “Black Panther” is set.
“This is the kids show,” said Noble, getting her face painted in a African-inspired design. “It’s all about the kiddos and their vision of what they want this to be. My job here is to help facilitate things for them. If anything, I’m just a horse safety officer: It’s their hair design, their costume designs, their ideas. We want to showcase that for the community.”
Lewis, a police officer in the Sunnydale neighborhood, sat in Noble’s combination horse trailer and RV while getting gold-tipped false eyelashes glued on. The sisters joked that they named their three-rider tribe “Watusi Wakanda” after the muscular African cattle breed.
“I feel so pretty right now,” said Lewis, adjusting her elaborate gold hoop necklace and beaded collar. “I feel like … back to my roots.”
Lewis is part of the San Francisco police housing team in the Ingleside District, which works to build relationships between the police and the Sunnydale community.
It’s “more of a proactive community policing approach,” Lewis said. “Build trust and essentially have fun, show the human side of law enforcement. This is just another level of having fun and bringing people together. Horses, they’re the key to your heart, how can you not be happy?”
Once horses and riders were painted and dressed, it was was time to mount up. The three riders shivered as the wind whipped up: Wakanda-style nods to warmer African climates don’t include a lot of coverage against Bay Area elements. After kicking off their shoes they got on their horses, which were blanketed in colorful African print fabrics in lieu of saddles.
“I feel powerful,” Johnson said of his finished look. As for the cold, all three riders hoped the heat of the horses’ bodies would help keep them warm.
Raising her prop spear, Noble yelled out “Watusi, Wakanda forever!” and began the ride three blocks downhill to the Sunnydale Boys & Girls Club and Willie L. Brown Jr. Youth Center, accompanied by a police car playing the “Black Panther” soundtrack for added ambiance.
Cars halted, people stopped on the sidewalk to watch and others came out of their homes. Some shouted hellos to Lewis, others recognized Noble from her viral photograph and Xfinity commercial. A few shouted lines from the movie and made the hero’s signature crossed arm salute. A little boy in his own Black Panther costume stopped in his tracks seeing the horses, lifted his mask and smiled excitedly as he took the whole spectacle in.
As they rode across the Black Lives Matter street mural painted in front of the Boys & Girls Club, the song “Fight the Power” blasted on a sound system. Dozens of people from the neighborhood gathered around to watch as the riders took position on the lawn so residents could pose with the group for socially distant selfies.
After thanking the crowd and acknowledging the work of the Oakland school’s student designers, Noble led her three-person Watusi Wakanda tribe through the neighborhood before heading back up the hill. Michelle Noble, the mother of Brianna and Brittany, was easy to spot in her shirt and mask emblazoned with the words “Proud Mom.”
“I’m proud of both my daughters,” Michelle Noble said. “Growing up in Oakland, being from a lower-middle-class family, the sport (riding) they wanted to pursue, the things they wanted to do, was so far out from what my husband and I knew that it was hard to embrace this because we didn’t know anything about it. This is a reminder to me that when they have a vision and a dream, support it with everything you got.”