OAKLAND -- After a decade of struggle, Oakland's massive sculpted monument to heroic perseverance, human rights and peace broke ground Monday

The "Remember Them: Champions For Humanity" project will be a set of four bronze sculptures standing more than 20 feet high and depicting the faces of 25 people known for changing human history despite grueling challenges and long odds. It's a theme that both the artist and his supporters throughout the city say is resonant and open to all people but has special meaning in Oakland.

"It is that perseverance, it is that tenacity, it is that greatness that we see in these figures that is also reflected in Oakland," said City Councilwoman Desley Brooks (Eastmont-Seminary) at Monday's ceremony.

The groundbreaking took place in a courtyard along 19th Street, between Telegraph and San Pablo avenues. By the end of September, the first phase of the installation is planned to be complete, including three of the four major sculptures.

Phase two would complete the project with the installation of the largest sculpture as well as a special wall set up for people with vision problems, offering life-size sculpted busts of each of the people featured on the sculptures.

"That's probably the part of this dearest to my heart," said sculptor Mario Chiodo, who was born and works in Oakland and has donated his time to the project. Chiodo says he was inspired to bring more hope into the world after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.


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"It's a sad story that wound up a good one," Chiodo said of the blind wall. "My father got glaucoma and ended up losing his sight. But that inspired this wall, and I don't think there are any others like it."

The wall aims to be a gift to people who've been blind for most or all of their lives, and may have no idea what famous faces like those belonging to Malcolm X, Mahatma Ghandi or Franklin D. Roosevelt look like.

"We tested it with people from The Blind Center," Chiodo said. "One woman said, 'I had no idea Abraham Lincoln had a big nose! And a cowlick!'"

The memorial's figures are largely famed leaders in the civil rights movement. Other figures range from human rights authors like Frederick Douglass and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel, to political groundbreakers like Cesar Chavez and Harvey Milk and even those whose private struggles inspired others, like Helen Keller, who as a baby lost her hearing and vision and later became a writer and speaker.

The project will cost a total of $9 million, and the bulk of that has already been raised, with major sponsors including Kaiser Permanente, the Clorox Co., Wells Fargo and the Oakland Rotary Club. Funding remains $1.8 million short, and Chiodo said he and the project's other supporters are beating the bushes trying to rustle it up, with the Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce's corporation set up as the sponsor.

For more information, go online to www.remember-them.org.