“Art speaks where words are unable to explain.”
On the morning of Saturday June 13, 2020, Councilman Robert Cornegy, Jr. and volunteers from the community began painting a Black Lives Matter mural along the roadway on Fulton Street between Marcy and Brooklyn Avenues. The design was conceived of by Dr. Indira Etwaroo, Director of the Billie Holiday Theater. Her design was intended to magnify the Black Live Matter slogan, while highlighting the names of those that have lost their lives to anti-Black violence in an ode to Mamie Till Bradley, who held an open casket funeral for her son Emmet. Each name is assigned to the ground as an open casket, visible proof that we are hunted in this Country for no reason at all other than the color of our skin.
The term Black Lives Matter has been a part of our society’s lexicon since the acquittal of George Zimmerman in July 2013. Three women – Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi created the hashtag, and then later the central ideology behind Black Lives Matter. Currently, Black Lives Matter is a global movement with more than 40 chapters. Those three words have become synonymous with civic action against systemic racism and police brutality, but for many the crux of the idea is elusive. There are those who pushed back against the phrase by proclaiming that All Lives Matter. Cops and Fraternal Police organizations rebutted that Blue Lives Matter. Even in our own communities, the phrase seems to be at times both too digitally oriented to be authentic and too mainstream trendy to be respected.
Having those words on the ground right in the heart of downtown Bedford Stuyvesant, in this moment, as our country is reeling from the corruptive consequences of racism in America, gives our community a chance to show the naysayers and those unsure about the concept proof of their meaning through action. For Juneteenth, I produced a Census event for the Brooklyn NAACP that bought out our elected officials and more than 300 people. What I saw on that day was how important it was for people to convene at the mural. They wanted to take pics on it. They wanted to read the names. They wanted to feel the energy emanating from this highly controversial phrase. Our community wanted to be in agreement with the phrase. Yes, Black Lives Matter.
Seeing the effect of this mural on our community, and knowing that we have a chance to be a model for social interaction in this new pandemic-framed normal, I sat with District Leader Henry Butler to discuss how we could utilize the BLM roadway to build programming that will benefit the community, and bring them to this hallowed place to show and prove that Black Lives Matter. He agreed with the idea. So did Rob Cornegy. I created Feel Good Fridays at the mural to accomplish three things. First, I wanted to utilize the space to model our new social responsibility towards one another. Second, the businesses in our community have all suffered during this season of quarantine. They need our help. I wanted to bring people together under the banner of cooperative economics. Lastly, the idea of placing action above the words was one that gave me goosebumps. Someone once said that art speaks where words are unable to explain. In order to get folk to truly understand that Black Lives Matter, Black life has to be on display, in all of its layers, to speak where words are unable to explain.
A Coalition was created to produce programming on Saturdays as well. My fellow Morgan State alum Monique Antoine coordinates the Saturday programming. She was one of the people who fought to keep the street closed for programming, to keep the mural a living work of art. When asked about the battle to keep the roadway closed, she says “Black Lives Matter is economic prosperity, it’s wellness, it’s fellowship, education and culture. In times of unrest and economic depression this mural is an opportunity for us to learn, laugh and love despite adversity. Driving over those names would have been a waste of a wonderful chance to bring people together.”
The mural has a bunch of champions leaning in to give it meaning and reach into the community. Oma Holloway, Abi Robinson-Hobson, Lynette Battle, Keith Forest, Michael Catlyn, Anthony Buissereth, Simone Pratt, Robert Cornegy, sometimes in the comic books superheroes pair up or form an alliance for the good of the world. Our community is no different.
I implore you to make your way to the Black Lives Matter mural either on a Friday or a Saturday between now and Labor Day. Enjoy the music, indulge in the Yoga and Socarobics, or just sit there and absorb the energy of it all.