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 ...
Black Lives Matter mural in Harlem Alon Sicherman for New Kingston Media

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.”