New ‘Black Lives Matter’ street mural welcomed in downtown Greensboro
Downtown Greensboro is the latest city in North Carolina to participate in a street art mural project to raise awareness of Black Lives Matter following the death of George Floyd.
Other cities such as Winston-Salem, Fayetteville, Raleigh, and Charlotte have also allowed local artists and organizers to express themselves through a street mural. The first street mural was painted right in the nation’s capital in bold yellow letters reading Black Lives Matter.
In Greensboro, a portion of S. Elm Street between Washington Street and February One Place has been closed off to traffic through the weekend of Friday, June 26.
The mural brought people together from Greensboro and surrounding areas as the mural was also an event filled with Black businesses selling their products and a host, 102 Jamz’s very own BDaht from the trio 3 Live Crew.
The fruition of the Greensboro Black Lives Matter street mural
Local artists began working on the mural Saturday, June 27 at around 11 a.m.
According to the City of Greensboro’s Facebook page, the mural was led by artist Rasheeda Shankle and project leaders Kelley Creacy-Durham and Jason Keith. This is the second mural approved under Greensboro’s new Street Mural Program.
Keith, one of the prominent organizers for the mural and event says the idea was first proposed to him through his friend BDaht. A criminal and civil offense attorney, Keith was able to go through and submit all the paperwork for city approval.
Once the paperwork was being handled, Keith was able to start looking for 16 artists to correspond to the 16 letters in Black Lives Matter. Keith posted a flyer of the then proposed mural and event to his Instagram asking for volunteers, sponsors, artists, and vendors. He said over 50 artists submitted their work. “The ones you see are the most talented artists that were left,” Keith said.
The decision for the mural to read Black Lives Matter came from Keith himself saying, “The message speaks for itself. It’s not watered down. It’s powerful in itself and honestly, it’s divisive. Either you agree with it or you don’t.” Also adding that it is a message he and the artists strongly believe in.
The downtown area is the heart of Greensboro and specifically Elm Street. The street is filled with local businesses while cars drive up and down all day. Which came to be the reason for choosing the area for the mural. “This is one area in downtown Greensboro that you’re not gonna be able to avoid. We wanted to put it where you had to see it. So, you gotta see us,” Keith said.
What do the artists have to say about their artwork in the mural?
The portion of Elm Street closed off was met with a lot of foot traffic. All people passing by taking a moment to stop and witness the artists doing what they do best; being creative.
One of the 16 artists, James Raleigh, was given the letter ‘V’ in ‘Lives’. Raleigh was not sure of what his letter was going to be but, he envisioned a blue sky with several colors coming down to the color black. He also said if he had time he was thinking about putting former President Barack Obama’s face in his piece.
The artists did not get to choose the letter they wanted according to Raleigh but for him, the letter ‘V’ was more than fitting. He has his own business, Victorious Visions, located in Greensboro. Even while Raleigh is in the middle of moving art studios he said he put moving to the side because the mural is giving him a chance to be a part of history.
North Carolina A&T State University student, Jazmine Boykins who is artistically known as Blacksneakers, was given the letter ‘A’ in ‘Matter’. Blacksneakers says her piece is a commemoration to all young Black boys, “They need to know that they are okay, that they are loved, and that they’re protected.”
For her portion of the mural, Blacksneakers thinks about her little brother saying, “I have a little brother so I’m really worried about him. I mean our parents let him know what’s going on; they don’t hold anything back, but I’m still worried about how it will go for him even when he gets older or even now really.”
People will have their own opinions about street murals like the one in Washington D.C. and even for the one in Greensboro, but Blacksneakers says art is an important component in bringing people together. She echoed the same sentiment as Raleigh saying she is glad to be a part of a great moment in history.
A former educator and now fulltime artist, Nichole Keith, was given the letter ‘E’ in ‘Lives’. As a mother of three children, Keith says she is an advocate for children deciding to use her letter to paint ‘Black boy joy’ and ‘Black girl magic’. On the decision of why she wanted to be a part of the street mural, “I feel like it’s a part of history. It’s just an honor to be involved in any capacity.”
Keith says murals like these help the Black Lives Matter movement be heard and allow Black people to be seen in a positive light. As a whole Keith also says each letter of the mural speaks to a different aspect of the African-American culture.
Fostering community and dialogue in Greensboro
Simply walking by the location of the mural, a community was easily visible and if not, people were engaging with one another. A community in the sense of coming together even during a pandemic for the Black Lives Matter movement. BDaht along with other speakers kept making it clear they were thankful for the support of everyone in attendance.
“This is healing. This is conversation. This is a change. Because when you see this, that’s the beginning of change right there,” is how Thomas Clodfelter feels about the intentions behind the recent street murals. Lexington, N.C. native, Clodfelter was one of many admiring and taking pictures of what some of the artists kept echoing; history.
Having lived in Greensboro for 30 years, Clodfelter said he had never seen people from all backgrounds come together for change. “That’s life. That’s healing. That’s understanding because I get to understand you and we get to share our knowledge. We get to share a future. A vision. A voice and together we can create change,” Clodfelter said about taking the time to communicate with different people.
Jason Keith made it clear the mural and event was not the culmination of just his doing, but rather everyone involved coming together and each contributing their effort.
“We won’t know how great of an experience it is until the artwork is finally done. So, we’re looking forward to that, and thanks to the city of Greensboro for doing it,” Keith said.
When it comes to civil rights and creating change, Greensboro is not a new starting point. Knowing the history of a city can only help in seeing the bigger picture of a city’s current social affairs.
With that in mind, it should be known the portion of S. Elm Street painted with Black Lives Matter is only footsteps away from the International Civil Rights Center and Museum. The museum’s purpose to memorialize and showcase the grand effort of four North Carolina A&T freshmen who initiated the sit-in movement in 1960.
Just like the sit-in movement, the first street mural in D.C. has caused a rippling effect across the nation in making a statement for change.
You can see more work and follow the artists mentioned in this story below.