By Mike Kinney
The phrase stands out prominently for all to see in Richmond. In giant yellow letters, “BLACK LIVES MATTER” was painted on Nevin Avenue in front of Richmond City Hall spanning from 25th to 27th streets on Saturday.
Over 200 community members participated in the effort, called ‘Art Is Protest- Painting Pride & Purpose-Black Lives Matter,” according to organizers. They gathered starting at 9 a.m. for brief opening remarks and instructions and went to work. There were stations for paint supplies, food and beverage and children’s art.
Similar Black Lives Matter murals are being painted in other American cities, including Washington D.C. and San Francisco. The idea to paint Richmond’s street mural came from local artist Deonta Allen, who reached out to Richmond Revolution on Monday for support. Over the next couple of days, the community responded enthusiastically to news of the event, donating more than $7,000 toward the street mural. In addition, support was provided by Rich City Rides and Our Power Coalition, who had originally planned their own event and shifted course in the name of collaboration and increasing impact together.
Each block letter measured 10 feet by 11 feet, Allen said.
Helene Burks, one of the event organizers, said it wasn’t all smooth sailing. The previous night, she said, Richmond Revolution organizers and artists gathered on Nevin in front of City Hall to prepare for Saturday’s action and had their spray paint cans confiscated by police and told they couldn’t be in the street. Individuals persisted, continuing to work with chalk until 1 a.m., then returning at 8:30 a.m. this morning to press on, Burks said.
After the painting was done, people gathered to listen to speakers tell their personal stories of interactions with police and calls for specific action. The event also featured dancing, music, chalk murals, free screen printing of personal items and posters, and artwork created by little and big kids alike. According to one speaker, the large community effort was part of a broader showing of support for the reimagining of safety in schools and neighborhoods.
Contra Costa County Supervisor John Gioia attended and said he was energized by the effort to support the Black Lives Matter movement.
“It was a special significance to see such a diverse youth-led movement all working together for a common goal,” Gioia said.
Richmond Revolution aims to hold more events in the future, both in person and virtually, to connect differing perspectives, dialogue, and work towards plans for black liberation and safety, Burks said.