London

Afzaal family's legacy lives on in special mural to mark 1 year since London, Ont., attack

A year ago today, London, Ont., and the world were shocked to learn a vehicle attack on the Afzaal family while they were out for a walk had left four of them dead. Now, some of those closest to 15-year-old Yumnah Afzaal have created a mural inspired by her love of art in a project that has helped them heal.

Special anniversary mural is part of events to honour Muslim family killed June 6, 2021

Some of Yumnah Afzaal's close friends and family worked on a new mural that was unveiled Monday to honour the Afzaal family one year after four of them died following a vehicle attack in London, Ont. (James Chaarani/CBC)

A year ago today, London, Ont., and the world were shocked to learn a vehicle attack on the Afzaal family while they were out for a walk had left four of them dead.

Now, some of those closest to 15-year-old Yumnah Afzaal have created a mural inspired by her love of art in a project that has helped them heal. It will be revealed later Monday at the site of the attack, at the intersection of Hyde Park Road and South Carriage Road. 

Yumnah was the artist behind a mural of her own the summer before the Grade 10 student, her parents, Salman Afzaal and Madiha Salman, and her grandmother, Talat Afzaal, were killed in the June 6, 2021, attack that police have said was motivated by hate. Yumnah's brother, nine years old at the time, survived.

The man charged with murder and related terror offences is expected to go to trial in 2023.

In the meantime, people in London are doing their part to honour the Afzaals on this first anniversary while raising awareness about Islamophobia.

Aya Abdul Hamid said her friend Yumnah's original mural was a way for her to leave her legacy at the London Islamic School, where she'd studied and her creation now has a home.

Aya said she got involved in the new art project as a way to continue Yumnah's legacy and "leave a statement of the family." 

Yumnah Afzaal's closest family and friends working on the mural, which will be revealed Monday (June 6) at 7 p.m. ET. (Submitted by Yasmin Hussain)

"It's definitely been a way of healing after it happened," said the 16-year-old. "As someone who is young ... you can never be prepared for something like this in the way that it came and how sudden it was." 

Aya said "continuing on what [Yumnah] probably would have wanted to continue on" also helped in the healing process. 

A community effort

The new mural is a collaboration with family and friends of the Afzaals, as well as:

  • Muslim artist Wajeha Chams.
  • Indigenous artist Mike Cywink.
  • The Muslim Resource Centre for Social Support and Integration.
  • The City of London, which funded the project. 
Working on the mural helped Yumnah's friend, Aya Abdul Hamid, heal after the June 6, 2021, attack. (James Chaarani/CBC)

Another of Yumnah's close friends, Huda Sallam, who was involved in the mural project, said she offered her opinions and "emotional support" to Yumnah when she was working on her original mural. Huda also tried to bring Yumnah's artistic sensibilities to the new piece.

"I definitely tried to see it from her eye," explained the 15-year-old.

Huda said she hasn't been able to go to the intersection where the attack took place, but the mural may change that. 

"Having something as beautiful as that sitting there, I think it'll be easier for me to go back every now and then and just kind of remember her. 

Huda Sallam, another of Yumnah's friends, tried to bring some of the Grade 10 student's artistic sensibilities to the new mural. (James Chaarani/CBC)

"And I think that a lot of the friends and families are going to get together at some point to go and just sit there and just, you know, remember how this mural came about, and have those memories and thoughts within it."

The mural's unveiling is part of five days of events, which started Friday and end Wednesday, that were organized. They also include a vigil, a march and workshops. 

Aya hopes the mural will help people see how the family lived instead of how their lives were taken away.

She also stressed that the Afzaals were much more than a family who were killed because of their religious beliefs. 

"The whole family was just such a peaceful family, so calming … and I feel like they were so understanding and so generous in the way they were and the way they carried themselves as humans. And I know their parents raised Yumnah and [her brother] very well. Very, very well." 

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

James Chaarani is a reporter for CBC Kitchener-Waterloo and London. You can reach him at james.chaarani@cbc.ca.

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