Every character in the Black Lives Matter! mural in Cincinnati, Ohio was inspired by a line in the poem "We Want What You Want" by Alandes Powell. Each artist shares a glimpse into their theme, inspiration and creative process with you.
"To Raise Our Kids in Peace"
Brandon "Illzotic" Hawkins, Lead Artist
“ I want to raise my family in peace.” I want to lead those in my household and community to be positive and contributing members of society. I want to recognize and nourish my family’s potential using the gifts God has placed within me. I want to impress upon them the importance of sharing recourses in order to bring about a state of serenity. It is my prayer that even during this process of uplifting those I call “family”, we are only confronted with the love and peace we project. I want to raise my family in peace.
"For Systems Designed To Negatively Impact Our Families To Be Eradicated"
Michael "Prosper" Coppage, Lead Artist
Elements in the artwork: Black Power Fist rising from pool of blood. The black fist, also known as the Black Power fist is a logo generally associated with Black nationalism, defiance and solidarity. Its most widely known usage is by the Black Panther Party The 1968 Olympics in Mexico City became the site of one of the most highly publicized (and criticized) uses of the raised fist. Months prior to the event, the United States was reeling from the assassination of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the ongoing civil rights turmoil. Dr. Harry Edwards established his own organization, later becoming the Olympic project for Human Rights, whose goal was to protest racial segregation. American track athletes, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, were the first two athletes to join as they viewed the games as a critical platform to speak out from for better treatment of black athletes and black people around the world. When Smith and Carlos won gold and bronze respectively in the 200m dash, they raised their fists, protesting racism and injustice on the world stage. “We had to be seen because we couldn’t be heard,” said Smith. “I wanted to do something so powerful that it would reach the ends of the earth, and yet still be nonviolent,” Carlos explained. The letter “L” represents resistance and resilience. The RESISTANCE to the systemic, institutional and overtly racial and prejudiced systems that create catastrophic barriers in the lives of black people and the RESILIENCE to still be able to succeed in a system that is set up for black people to fail. Depicted is a power fist rising from a pool of blood shed of black people who have been murdered.
"To Be Treated Equally, Fair and Just”
Brent Billingsley, Lead Artist
"To be treated equally, fair and just” EQUALITY A spoken word; Artist’s STATEMENT Equality is subjective, to time, to PLACE. To culture, to gender, to the color of someone's FACE; to religious beliefs. From my PERSPECTIVE my HYPOTHESIS is that the lack of, there of; is TAUGHT. Because a three year old Muslim, Christian, Witness, Sikh, HINDU, Catholic or HEBREW. Never FOUGHT over Allah, Yahweh, Akal Murat, God, Jehovah, Brahman; LAND, money, power or oil DEMAND. Oppression of a culture has reactive consequences, so in 1963 we opted to STAND; for a cause that was JUST. Fair treatment was no longer a luxury; it was a MUST! IN THIS IMAGE; history is seen in the REFLECTION, as we reflect WHEN so many took to WASHINGTON! Government should not be predicated off of conquest, stolen countries cultural EXTINCTION and purposed DIVISION. Love should not be FORBIDDEN because of circumstances, labels or differences in PIGMENT, CONTINGENT upon ANCESTRY. Such a tainted HISTORY we have DEVELOPED. And the lack of equality that ENVELOPED continues, we just hide behind educated rhetoric and political GESTURES. And we've MEASURED so short for so long and so many do so LESS and I GUESS I know how much better we all would BE. If we gave into fairness, became just, embraced equality and simply loved like we were THREE.
"To Play With Our Grandchildren and Celebrate as They Graduate From High School and College"
Lahna Lei, Lead Artist
It has been a proven fact that not every person of color makes it to see a high school and college graduation
"To live free from unjust persecution"
Tamia Saunders, Lead Artist
My theme was “freedom from unjust prosecution”. When I initially came up with a design for the letter I strongly emphasize on freedom so when I thought of freedom I thought of someone being broken from chains as well as free-flowing water to represent a person that goes with the flow and also has the freedom to move around as the flow moves around them. The figure that’s depicted in the letter is neither male nor female. There are also birds depicted in the design which are sparrows ,if I was being specific, and they are the embodiment of freedom as most birds are and that was my thought process behind it. The concentric circles and the waves and how they were created was meant to be a therapeutic journey for not just me designing it, but also for the volunteers and my assistant who helped me work on it. I wanted them to feel FREE and not constrained.
"A Place That Our Art of Blackness Will Be Safe As It Hangs In Your Place"
Gee Horton, Lead Artist
Inspired by the poem "I, Too" by Langston Hughes, the L symbolized my theme of finding a safe place for black art.
"Nothing More and Nothing Less"
Hannah "Jonesy" Jones, Lead Artist
The letter I depicts a desire for equality for all to shine bright in their own light.
"For Rules That Oppress People Like Us To Be Lifted"
Vinay Duncan, Lead Artist
I started my sketch knowing I wanted to show an emotion of anguish and hope. I expressed that on the woman's face with her eyes looking up to the African symbol for freedom, emancipation and independence. I eventually refined the sketch and updated my cartoon with one of Sandra Bland. The burden of the mural was heavy & I wanted to use this moment to truly let my art speak. I wanted to use the face & name of someone who was oppressed by a system. It's a name I don't want us to forget. Her story impacted me greatly when I watched the police officer strip her of her dignity over a simple traffic stop. The stop sign is a bold symbol that is interrupting the "acts of violence" that we face. I wanted to keep the design clean and simplistic because the message in my art is clear. "For rules that oppress people like me, to be lifted." Stop the violence!
"To Walk In A Place Of Education And Know It Is Truly Used to Educate"
Latausha Cox, Lead Artist
Throughout my educational career, I have witnessed discrepancies in our educational system solely based on the area of which a child lives. I grew up in upper middle class neighborhoods which afforded me access to great resources through my school including new text books, computers, and dedicated teachers. It also caused me to grow up surrounded by people who don’t look like me. At the end of each school year, we would pack up our vandalized, worn textbooks to ship to struggling schools nearby. Due to the school zoning, my seventh grade year, I was bused across town to one of those less fortunate neighborhoods where I experienced the imbalance of funding. Soon after, my family moved to another school district where I went from no art classes to a school with an entire arts wing. My teachers helped me prepare my portfolio, sign up for arts competitions, and schedule college tours helping me get admitted into an excellent college with scholarships. I benefited from the overwhelming amount of resources and support while feeling uncomfortable to know most students can’t share my experience. When I designed my letter, I wanted to depict the importance of equal education. I felt a narrative approach would reflect my experience and demand change. If we pour into our students through funding, investment of time, resources and community support, ALL students would have the proper tools to walk into a promising future.
"To Be Treated Equally, Fairly, And Just"
Ke'Monte Figgs, Lead Artist
“The Statue of Liberty”, Americas most famous and most recognizable monument. She is the queen who enlightens Bedloe’s Island. Her figure stands as the “Gate Way of the Amazing Grace”. Chains and broken shackles suppress at her feet. “Oh, My Lady Liberty”, says America as she walks forward leading the country into a new era of Freedom. But what if there was a Black Woman who graced the era of Freedom? Imagine that on New York’s harbor? How would that alter present day in America? Although it’s only a rumor that the originally Statue of Liberty offered to America was posed by a black woman, it still would have meant the true Liberation of the Black Hebrew Slaves. Black men, woman and children would never have had to worry about lynching’s. Our acceptance would not have been an issue to the point where we had to be segregated. To this day black people in America would not have known this long to suffer. Instead as a people there would be a healing process. There would be fairness and truth. There would be justice. Racism would not be known. We would not have to fight and cry Black Lives Matter. Perhaps we would even love one and another. That is the inspiration that I incorporated through my art with the Black Lives Matter! Mural.
"To Witness Our Children, Grow Into Adults"
Adoria Maxberry, Lead Artist
While protesting Downtown, I saw a sign delicately written on cardboard simply stating, "They Buried Us, But Forgot We Are Seeds." This statement resonated with me in more ways than one. My piece depicts my desire to see my children grow into adults. It is my desire that everyone can see a piece of themselves in this mural. Despite the adversity that we face shown by the silhouette of the woman with a baby in the womb. The woman is surrounded by the roots of her ancestors that form a tree. The tree represents life and is a replica of my company, Most OutGROWing LLC's, logo. In the tree you will see the initials of my team members intricately woven into the details of the bark. The leaves of the tree are little African continents. The fist of the mother with the seed in her womb is forcing itself through the dirt and proudly blooming into a sunflower. In the middle of the M, you will notice the words "but forgot" along with praying hands. Through prayer, which we sometimes forget to do, we have seen God move many obstacles out of our way. It is through that prayer, that the seed once depicted, is able to transition into the grown man and his family. I chose to portray my family with my eldest daughter, my son, my husband, myself and my youngest daughter standing strong reminding us that "we are seeds". The legacy created by strong families and future generations is depicted by the field of sunflowers with fists standing strong. You will notice that each member of the family has a crown as we are all royalty. You may also notice that there are designs in each of the silhouettes. These designs pertain to each member of the family and their likes and personalities. In the arm of my husband you will see my late father's initials, and my husband's initials. In the fist you will notice the initials of our visionary's father who instilled the importance of fighting for what is right. It is my hope that when looking at this mural you will see the love that I have for my children, my family and my students as well as my desire to see them grow into the adults they should be. It is my prayer that you will be inspired to face any adversity with perseverance in knowing that you are a seed and will prosper.
"To Know That The People Carrying The Gun Have A Desire To Protect And Not Kill"
Jue Amman, Lead Artist
As a survivor of gun violence, the theme of this letter resonated with me and my goal was to use the work to bring more cultural connections for those viewing the mural. The elements that I placed within the letter A helps to bring awareness to many of the voices that have been silenced. “No Weapon Formed” are words taken from scripture (Isaiah 54:7) and they speak to both the physical and spiritual— although weapons may form (be used), they will not prosper (they will not destroy). The white flower in the artwork symbolizes a “concrete flower”, like many that grow through a small opening in the cement, not being watered but still flourishing. This concrete flower symbolizes the marginalized, mis-managed people and those who are counted out. The vertical red line represents the bloodshed and lives that have been taken unjustly by the mis-use of the gun.
"To Know That Your Voice Will Speak Against The Wrongs And Support
It is important to be heard. Silence is not going to make a difference. We have proven that by remaining silent about the inequalities that have become common place. It is time for us to all use our voice to make a difference.
"For Others To See The Ladies Who Look Like Us As Beautiful And Deserving Of Equal Rights Just Like The Ladies In Your Life"
Asha White, Lead Artist
My part of the poem was: “We want to see the women who look like me as beautiful and deserving of equal rights just like the ladies in your life” With the letter “T” I wanted to depict the women that are in everyones life, but to make their features bold and beautiful, just like the women in my life. I wanted to show black women as professionals, creatives, activist, children, and the elderly. Most importantly I wanted to highlight our hair. Just in October 2019, Cincinnati passed legislation making it illegal to discriminate against someone from wearing their natural hair in the workplace. Too long have black women (and men) been seen as less professional, untamed, and unattractive for wearing our hair the way that it grows out of our heads. This work tells its viewers that black women are beautiful, intelligent, creative, and powerful in all of their positions in life. Change begins when you can see the familiar aspects of your life reflected in others. My work is my small contribution towards changing perception and hearts, in hopes that it leads to legislative and systemic change.
"To Provide For Our Families"
Cedric Cox, Lead Artist
“To Provide for My Family” is the line taken from the poem, We Want What You Want, that inspired the painting of Letter “E” in “Matter.” My painting celebrates the importance of the family structure and our continual evolution toward greatness. In this painting a silhouette of the nuclear family stands proudly on a horizontal path with the sun rising behind them. The sun reminds us to be grateful for a new day of opportunities and our hope for better days to come. Around the outer edge of the sun there are zig-zag patterned sunbeams that reference African Heritage. Beginning at the bottom of the painting and leading to the top of the piece, a tree appears, representing family lineage and the strength of the family. The tree reaches the heavenly blue sky and is merged with the mother figure, who like the rest of the family members, are painted blue - showing the relationship of each family member and universal spiritual unity. My mission with this art was to resonate with all people who want what we want, which is peace, love, hope, and a brighter future for generations when we put family first.
"For Others To See The Males In Our Lives As Gentlemen With Kind Hearts And Not Thugs And Criminals"
Annie Ruth, Lead Artist
Elements in the artwork: “I am a Man” is a prominent theme in the art. The piece highlights the words as a history lesson, emphasizing the importance of reading. The words “father, brother, son, mentor and teacher” encourages the viewers to see black men with love, respect and dignity. Historically, in countries such as the United States and South Africa, the term "boy" was used as a racist insult to black men and enslaved Africans, indicating that they were less than men. British and American abolitionist responded with the slogan "Am I not a man and a brother?" In 1787, Josiah Wedgwood designed a medallion for the British anti-slavery campaign. He copied the original design from the Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade as a cameo in black and white. It was widely reproduced and became a popular symbol promoting justice, humanity, and freedom. The question "Am I not a man?" was brought up again during the Dred Scott decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in 1857. In 1968, the striking sanitation workers of Memphis carried signs declaring I AM A MAN. This statement answered a question asked by abolitionists and supporters of Civil Rights since the late 18th century. Today in 2020, With the Black Lives Matter! Mural, we still resound that message about BLACK MEN through art. “I am a Man”
"To Truly See This As A Land Of Opportunity"
Jonathan Sears, Lead Artist
We want to see our land as a land where we can all be free truly free. Like the Statue of Liberty our fire still burns. We are still compelled to see this nation free from racial injustice. Like the afro pick depicted our fists are raised high and Cincinnati is right there with us.