Black Lives Matter in its most literal sense, implies the need to change actions within humanity in order to have peace and equality for all. This statement challenges the foundation for which this country was built and pays homage to the ancestors whose lives were lost in their fight to be seen as human beings.
To me, Black Lives Matter is more than a statement or a globally recognized organization. This statement gives me the ability to be seen as what I should have been seen as at birth, human.
I co-led the BLM Mural Initiative with Joa’Quinn Griffin this past year because I realized the importance of this statement and its true representation. This initiative has no ties with the Black Lives Matter organization, but stands on its own in the power and resilience within the statement.
To officially welcome the mural to campus, Joa’Quinn and I hosted a reveal for the IU and Bloomington communities Aug. 19.
The organization itself has many flaws and the recent actions of one of the founders, Patrisse Cullors, have been questionable with regard to morality. However, the statement should not be disregarded.
The reveal featured guest speakers IU student body president, Ky Freeman, and local poet, PDVNCH.
Both Freeman and Poet PDVNCH were handpicked by me due to their involvement in the IU and Bloomington community and power to truly captivate an audience through their own experiences as Black people. Both of these individuals are proud advocates of their identities and of those who have been and continue to be marginalized within this country.
The mural reveal served as a point of unity as the crowd was filled with individuals of multicultural backgrounds. IU students, faculty and staff, as well as Bloomington community members were present to welcome the mural to campus and to the city.
What was evident to me during this reveal was how many white people were in attendance. While this could have a variety of interpretations, this was not a surprising thing to see. During the recent protests and gatherings amidst the unrest of 2020, many individuals who showed up were those without any ethnic ties to the Black community or diaspora.
Having a diverse audience, made up of white, Black and multicultural individuals meant the work behind the mural was not done in vain and the message has been felt by people of different backgrounds.
IU freshman, Andalysia Ivey, said Black Lives Matter means change, especially given the history Black people have endured in this country.
“I am so proud to see a Black Lives Matter mural on campus,” Ivey said. “I feel, in a sense, the mural creates a community among students of color.”
Ivey said the mural’s presence on campus brings a variety of good and bad emotions, but overall encourages inclusivity by addressing conflict.
To open up the event, Joa’Quinn Griffin and I, both co-organizers of the mural, gave some words on how the mural came to be and delved deeper into the contexts of each letter represented within the mural.
The B in the mural signifies Black Girl Magic. This letter begins the statement to represent the grand essence of what it means to be a Black woman, in contradiction to normal western beliefs and ideologies on the significance of the Black woman.
The K is an ASL K to bring awareness to the Deaf community. Oftentimes, this community is disregarded because this disability is not always seen. However, we included this representation to show how important it is to acknowledge the disability and the impact it has on certain individuals.
The E in Matter represents indigenous peoples. This symbolism was included because there are still individuals who teach and believe false narratives about how indigenous people had their land stolen from them. This letter shows their presence and welcomes the idea that none of us would be here if indigenous people were not slaughtered and stripped of their livelihoods. This very institution resides on indigenous soil.
During the reveal, PDVNCH recited a spoken word piece surrounding Black Lives Matter and what it means to exist as a Black person. He urged the audience to think about what it means to rally behind this movement only because Black death has been televised and recorded for them to see. He encouraged them to be true allies of the movement.
“It's a reminder of the reality that has become a nightmare, via the fantasy of the “American dream,” PDVCH said. “It means being viewed and treated with proportional equality, both individually and collectively.”
During the reveal, Freeman spoke of how important it is to understand why a mural of this stature has to be designed and urged attendees to think about how far this country has come since the Civil Rights Era and the Voting Rights Act. Freeman championed the need for unity and the representation the mural has for all individuals.
Freeman said it was his duty to be a part of the reveal, because he is the essence of what Black Lives Matter means.
“Given the positions I have held and how significant the mural statement has been,” Freeman said. “I have lived in every essence of the words, Black Lives Matter.”
He believes there is nothing he would change about the mural and feels it is a good representation of marginalized communities based on the thoughts put into the mural to include diverse communities, surrounding the LGBTQ+, indigenous and Asian Pacific American Islander communities.
While the mural has already sparked a bit of negative attention from individuals who may not understand its deeper meaning, the reveal offered as a guide to the interpretations of the letters and the representation within them.
This reveal was one of commemoration for the efforts of those behind the mural, but also for the individuals who have chosen and continue to choose peace and unity.