Harlem community collectively brings Black Lives Matter mural to life
Brenika Banks | 7/9/2020, midnight
Manhattan’s site for the Black Lives Matter mural was organized by Harlem Park to Park, featuring work of Harlem artists and community organizations. The mural is located on the northbound and southbound sides of Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard, between 125th and 127th streets. Although the mayor approved the mural paintings, according to the organizers the city did not provide funds for any of the murals. Harlem Park to Park funded the mural along with donations from architect company Rockwell Group and other corporate sponsors. This mural marked one of the first times the community has come together since the mandatory quarantine to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Harlem Park 2 Park’s goal was to reaffirm that the Black community matters by having a strong community engagement during the creation of the mural.
“We didn’t want to just commission artists,” said Nikoa Evans-Hendricks, executive director of Harlem Park to Park. “We had the luxury of two murals. We knew we could give one side to the artists to create an original piece of artwork. And the other side to the community, giving them a place to put all the feelings they have been having.”
“Harlem is the epicenter for Black culture, Black expression, Black art, Black thought, and Black economics,” said Erika Lucille Ewing, CEO of Got To Stop, a social impact group who assisted Harlem Park to Park with organizing the mural. “Every street that intersects with the mural holds significance in Black culture and it’s named after a Black man,” Ewing continued. She stated how the Harlem mural helps identify allies of Black people and recognize economic independence and collective power within the community. “This mural was creative justice and activism; we provided jobs and justice. It was a catalyst to begin the critical conversations and bring all the Harlem thought-leaders of social consciousness and social justice together to revitalize our creativity.”
Harlem Park to Park had more than 100 volunteers from organizations with a legacy of social action and social impact. Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer is working to gain permission for the mural to remain blocked off beyond the granted two weeks. Brooklyn’s mural will reportedly be blocked from traffic for the majority of the summer. Harlem’s mural is more challenging to block off due to its location that briefly interferes with one bus route. Evans-Hendricks mentioned the importance of protecting the Harlem mural from traffic for as long as possible. “We really want to preserve it,” she said. “It was beautiful to see how many people came out this [past] weekend to view the mural.”
“It was heartwarming to see the enthusiasm of the participants and the respect given to them by bystanders who were curious about what they were doing,” said Aurora Ferrer, an Afro-Latina and recent college graduate from Harlem. She described attending the Harlem mural event, which included a DJ and live musicians, as exciting. “The atmosphere was fun, but also focused,” she expressed. “The job to be done was to paint the mural and the participants were serious about that.”
The 16 letters which spell out ‘Black Lives Matter’ were each assigned to 10 people. This totals up to about 160 people who contributed to painting the mural from the community. Evans-Hendricks described working with the different artists as an incredible part of the painting. “They each have very different artistic styles,” she mentioned. “It was an interesting process talking to them and what their visions were and how they were all going to come together.” This Harlem mural gave many artists a significant platform to display their work. Guy Stanley Philoche is honored to be involved with this historic moment in history.
“I was honored and frankly eager to give back in some small way, to be a part of history, my history,” said Philoche, a Haiti-born New York City based artist. He credits his contributions to this mural as his legacy. His artwork has been shown internationally, yet he described painting the Black Lives Matter mural as just as prestigious as his overseas work.
“It was more important for me to get this mural right to convey the significance and brevity of this movement,” he explained. “I felt I must honor it as best as possible; it was beyond emotional.”
Ferrer is thankful to the Amsterdam News for our wide variety of stories about the Black community and continuing to humanize Black people. She additionally expressed how people should not become complacent with murals and cease actions against injustices. “The murals don’t destroy the systems that destroy us,” she said. “We have to remember that the work to end systematic racism is what matters.”