ITHACA, N.Y. –– The community gathered Saturday on the closed-off intersection of Plain St. and MLK Jr. St. to paint a Black Lives Matter mural, listen to music and express creative solidarity as racial justice movements continue in Ithaca and across the country.

The mural is large –– taking up the whole block –– similar to large street art done in other cities across the country with the same message.

“We’ve seen other cities have the opportunity to do this and be proud of their city and be proud of the work they see,” organizer Harry O’ Smith said. “We figured out a way to have the whole community be involved. We found a way to just lay the letters out and have the community come out and use their creativity to show what Black lives matter means to the them.”

The letters spelling out “Black Lives Matter” were outlined in black before the start of the event Saturday morning.

“This beautiful mural was a grassroots effort to affirm the simple truth: Black lives matter. I was happy to facilitate the street closure and paint supplies, ” Mayor Svante Myrick said about the project. “And I’m grateful to all the volunteers and city employees –– special shout out to Travis Brooks and Jay Stooks –– who helped make it happen.”

The mural before the community filled in the letters. Photo courtesy of Harry O’Smith.
The mural before the community filled in the letters. Photo courtesy of Harry O’Smith.

Ithacans of all ages and races came out to complete the mural. And while the weather was hot, a steady flow of participants remained hard at work adding color and detail to each portion.

Associate Principal and former art teacher at Ithaca High School Jackie Richardson was one of the people that came out to help paint on Saturday. She said she got involved to help highlight the local Black Lives Matter movement and local inequality.

“This is our community speaking very loudly about something that matters to all of us or should matter to all of us,” she said. “This is the community speaking loudly, and in a positive way that reaffirms what Black lives matter is all about.”

Phoebe Brown, a community activist and organizer was also in attendance at Saturday’s event. She said part of the mural’s purpose is to act as a reminder to the community to continue working against racial injustice.

“It’s a symbol that we’re working towards recognizing that Black Lives Matter,” Brown said. “What I’m hoping these symbols allow people to do is that when you walk by it you think to yourself, am I doing my part to make Black lives matter? Am I addressing inequality and equity? Am I approaching our politicians and community activists and leaders in our community and asked how this has moved the needle?”

Brown continued, “it’s not changing anything unless we use it as a push towards change.”

The final product was captured via drone by Shira Golding Evergreen, a local filmmaker working on a feature length documentary about Ithaca’s social justice and multicultural murals.

The intersection of Plain and MLK Jr. Streets will remain closed for the rest of Saturday evening, but will reopen to motorists on Sunday. Harry O’ Smith and his group Black Hands Universal will be showing a film on the block Saturday evening. Black Hands Universal shows films about the Black experience and Black lives every Saturday –– usually at Lehman Alternative Community School.

Anna Lamb

Anna Lamb is a reporter for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact her at alamb@ithacavoice.com