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Footprint Center’s new mural puts spotlight on Brittney Griner, other wrongful detainees

Brittney Griner's return home after being released from a Russian prison is giving new hope to other families with loved ones being held overseas.

PHOENIX — Neda Sharghi visited Phoenix over the weekend to attend the Mercury’s first home game of the season and to welcome Brittney Griner home.

“It gives me energy to fight,” Neda said.

It was important for Neda to be inside the Footprint Center because Griner’s return and release from a Russian prison are giving her family hope that Neda’s brother, Emad Shargi, will be released from an Iranian prison.

“It’s been too long. Five years of his life has been wasted,” Neda said.

The last photograph Emad Shargi took before being taken, smiling and happy, is part of a new mural. It sits on the west side of the Footprint Center, the home to the WNBA's Pheonix Mercury and NBA's Suns.

“What you see in that picture is an ordinary American citizen who has a family, who has a life, who has things to offer to his community,” Neda said.

Emad was on vacation visiting Iran in 2018 with his wife when he was taken. She said he is now being used as a negotiating pawn because he is an American.

Emad’s image, along with 13 other people who are being wrongfully detained or held hostage overseas, now covers a wall of the downtown arena near Jefferson and 1st streets.

Neda is advocating for people to support their group Bring Our Families Home (BOFH), which Griner is also supporting to raise awareness. The BOFH logo is also courtside inside the Footprint Center.

“We saw what the fans did for Brittney,” Neda said. “We weren’t allowed to forget her for one second, and that’s the most important thing, hostages and wrongful detainees worry they will be forgotten."

A local artist was called to do the new mural. Antoinette Cauley felt many emotions when she was asked to work on it.

“It was this overwhelming feeling of like ‘wow’ this is huge in the sense of the message, the impact, and I just felt this sense of I have to do this,” Cauley said.

Cauley is seeing so much success as an artist she’s currently living in Berlin, Germany, furthering her career. But by chance, Cauley said was visiting her hometown in Phoenix when she got the call about working on the mural. She shared she extended her trip to do the free-hand painting.

“It was important for me to learn their stories and it was heartbreaking,” Cauley said. “I thought about my own family members and if they were being detained how I would feel."

She and her team had a deadline to finish the artwork ahead of the Mercury’s season opener. This mural truly is an example of teamwork and community because Cauley was sick while working on it and two other artists, Shoreigh Williams and Giovannie, otherwise known as Just Created It, helped her to meet the deadline and finish the mural on time.

Now — she hopes all who pass the work of art it will be inspired.

“I want them to feel a sense of empathy and maybe they want to take some action,” Cauley said.

Neda also hopes people who attend a game or concert at the Footprint Center will go home thinking of her brother and the others. She asks for people to share their stories on social media, reach out to their local representative and support the Mercury as the team and Griner support BOFH.

Members of the organization hope the current attention to wrongful detainees will lead to a meeting with the president. Neda said the families all want to share their own stories with him and want the U.S. government to use all their tools to bring their loved ones back to the U.S.

“Cherelle Griner, Brittney's wife, had the opportunity, it meant the world to her, and we are asking the President to give up his time to us, so we can talk to him as well,” Neda said.

She knows the negotiation for Griner’s release from Russia was not easy, and watching Griner play basketball at home again gives her hope the same can be done for her brother, Emad.

For more information on wrongful detainees and hostages being held overseas, you can visit Bring Our Families Home website here.


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