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The Power of Community

The Story of the Black Lives Matter Street Mural

You likely have seen the beautiful Black Lives Matter street mural on Rose Street between South and Lovell. But do you know the amazing story of how this historical work of art came to be?

When KPL Library Assistant Jermaine Jackson saw the coverage of the massive Black Lives Matter street mural in Washington, D.C. he wondered, “Can we do something like this in Kalamazoo?” It was June 12th, and he knew the best, most impactful day to unite the Kalamazoo community through a project like this would be June 19th, also known as Juneteenth.

Juneteenth is the oldest, nationally-celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States. Dating back to 1865, it was on June 19th that Union soldiers landed in Galveston, Texas with news that the war had ended and that the enslaved were now free.

With less than 1 week to pull this project together, Jermaine first reached out to Kalamazoo Mayor David Anderson for permission to paint a Black Lives Matter mural on Rose Street between Lovell and South Street. The Mayor readily agreed and Jermaine immediately reached out to local artists, businesses, community partners, and Kalamazoo Public Library to put a plan together.

The project began with commissioning printing company KalBlue who would print and place the stencil on Rose Street for painting. Jermaine then reached out to local artists Paul Sizer, Lesley Serri, Darien Burress, Gerald King, and Jamari Taylor to collaborate with each other on design. With direction from Jermaine and other community members, the artists incorporated various impactful words, symbols, and themes into the design to visually tell the story of Black Lives Matter and the impact of the movement in Kalamazoo.

Kalamazoo Public Library offered Central’s parking lot to place a porta-potty and the Facilities Maintenance Department provided electricity and set up tents for the volunteers. Staff from KPL’s Community Engagement Department, Youth, and Teen Services volunteered to assist the painters and provided supplies including chalk that would be used to fill the sidewalk next to the library with supportive messages from the community.

Kalamazoo businesses and downtown churches also stepped up and sent volunteers, as well as donated supplies and money that were used to pay for the paint supplies, the porta-potty, a DJ, photographers and even, provided a stipend for the participating artists.

Juneteenth was a scorching hot day. Hundreds of volunteers from all demographics came from Kalamazoo, Portage, Battle Creek, and beyond to work on painting the stenciled design. Jermaine recalls, “People from all walks of life, black, white, Latinx and others, all economic levels, they all came together. We had a person using a wheelchair who painted and we also were able to assist a blind teenager with painting.” Hundreds more came to watch the process as the mural blossomed from stenciled words to a brightly colored, highly impactful work of art.

DJ Chuck kept the party going all day while local photographers and media staff used drones to capture the mural coming to life. Volunteers passed out water and refreshed paint supplies. Despite the heat, the artists, volunteers, painters, and community participants stayed all day to witness the mural come to life and to clean up afterward.

Long after the paint has dried, local businesses have continued the work of spreading the BLM message. Fritz Klug expertly turned the final street mural design into a graphic that would be printed on t-shirts for sale by local business owner Michael Beyene of Kalamagonia. A local mother/daughter team, Theresa and Savannah, designed buttons and masks featuring the design. Posters and other promotional items are also in production. Local independent bookstore this is a bookstore & Bookbug provided space in their store to purchase these items. 100% of the proceeds benefit local black-owned businesses. These items sold out quickly but Bookbug is expecting more in the coming weeks.

The Kalamazoo Black Lives Matter street mural is not just a beautiful work of art. It is a statement, a testament, a commitment from the Kalamazoo community and beyond that we will stand with our black brothers and sisters in unity and will walk with them, arm in arm, fists raised in the air and tell the world in one voice that Black Lives Matter and we won’t stop until that statement is no longer needed. Jermaine summed up the efforts of that historical day perfectly. “The power of love is greater than the power of hate any day. That’s what this day was all about. Love.”

Photo credit: Fritz Klug

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