(PHOTOS) Community volunteers paint Black Lives Matter mural on North McDonough Street
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Decatur, GA — Community volunteers, organizers, and artists showed up to Downtown Decatur on Saturday to paint a mural along North McDonough Street proclaiming “Black Lives Matter.”
Despite an initial forecast of rain, the sun shined down on volunteers and artists of all ages as they helped to fill in the stenciled designs.
The mural was approved by the city commission at the beginning of August, and Commissioner Lesa Mayer played a significant role in organizing the project.
Three Black artists — Sharanda Wilburn, George F. Baker III, and Petie Parker — were responsible for the design of the mural, with each artist creating a concept for one word of the phrase.
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The location was chosen because it runs in front of the campus of Decatur High School and is a prominent street in the downtown area. Decatur High School’s community has been rattled by several racist incidents this year, and organizers felt that the mural would create a more accepting environment for students who eventually will return to the school building. (Like most other metro Atlanta public schools, Decatur High is closed and students are learning virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic.)
Commissioner Lesa Mayer said she felt the project was going “better than expected.”
“We had some concerns about the weather, so fortunately it’s a beautiful sunny day and we’re able to have the volunteers out actively painting,” she said. “This was a request from the community, and the community is out here executing the painting. The artists have been amazing, they’re engaging the members of the community and the volunteers, and so it’s a great community-building experience with an extremely important message behind it.”
Sharanda Wilburn created her artistic concept for the word “Black” with each letter of the word alluding to a life lost to police brutality or racism. The design includes motifs instead of faces: Skittles in reference to Trayvon Martin, a BART transit map for Oscar Grant, a stethoscope representing Breonna Taylor’s work as a paramedic.
Wilburn said this is her first work on display in Decatur. She’s also done murals in Atlanta. “I’m very honored to do this. I just have different elements inside of each letter of people who have lost their lives.”
Wilburn was pleasantly surprised that the project was getting finished quicker than expected, with the help of volunteers.
George F. Baker’s design for the word “lives” is a vibrant crowd of faces in a blue, pink, and yellow color scheme.
“I wanted to illustrate the variety of people and colors and creeds that you would see all throughout Atlanta,” Baker said. “I wanted to have them all together, just being together and enjoying themselves, you know, smiling. In these moments, we need a lot of levity, but we also need a lot of truth.”
This is Baker’s first project in Decatur, but his work is also displayed on the north side of the Atlanta Beltline, in Cabbagetown, and in Downtown Atlanta. He recently completed a storefront mural for the Atlanta restaurant Slutty Vegan.
Petie Parker was busy offering his leftover paint to a fellow artist who had stopped by to see the work being done on the mural. He introduced himself as “Petie Parker, like Spiderman.”
Parker’s design for the word “matter” features a ballot box and the word “vote” repeated in the background.
“For any change to happen, I think [voting] is where it really starts,” said Parker. “I don’t think the Black community puts the emphasis on voting, and I think at a young age it needs to be introduced, and kids are out here actually painting the word ‘vote.'”
Parker has also painted a mural on Auburn Avenue in Atlanta in tribute to Maynard Jackson, the first Black mayor of Atlanta.
The artists initially painted the stencil in the middle of the night — Parker said he had only gotten a few hours of sleep.
Parker says he uses the same signature color palette in all of his mural work. “It just pops.”
Fonta High, an organizer with Beacon Hill Black Alliance for Human Rights, said she felt the mural was a continuation of the work that brought Decatur’s Confederate monument down on the eve of Juneteenth. “We’re now putting in symbols and imagery that reflect the inclusivity of the city of Decatur and affirm the Black community.”
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Cameran Botts, a volunteer from Ellenwood, said the project was a good chance for her to get out of the house as a self-employed person. “I’m a fashion designer, so any creative opportunity I’m always hands-on with. That’s my passion, that’s my love.”
Botts was admiring Wilburn’s work on the Wendy’s logo and the “I Can’t Breathe” motto. “This one, I stopped in my tracks. The ‘I Can’t Breathe’ movement is so strong and so powerful, and I used to live across the street from that Wendy’s. Having real tangible things inside the mural that resonate with me is just breathtaking.”
“We were excited to be a part of painting the mural today,” said volunteer Mijha Godfrey, who was there with her daughter Sophia. “We live here and we drive along this street all the time.”
“When I saw [the mural], it really gave me chills on this hot day,” Godfrey added.
Mathilda LaFond, a 4th grader, said she came out to volunteer with her family because they believe that Black lives matter and thought it would be fun to help paint the mural.
“You’ll go to this high school some day and you’ll get to walk past your art every day,” Mathilda said.
“This is a really good opportunity to do a community activity that shows the importance of social justice … it’s the least we could do and I think this is a great project to show how much Decatur cares,” said Reggie, Mathilda’s dad.
Here are additional photos from Saturday’s event:
Here is a drone video of the mural being painted published on Facebook:
Here is a different drone video of today’s event published on YouTube:
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