Photo courtesy of the City of St. Petersburg
By Brittanye Blake, Contributor
ST. PETERSBURG — During the worldwide protest over state-sanctioned police brutality of black people and as the coronavirus disproportionately spreads through African-American communities leaving sickness, death and job loss in its wake, this 2020 Juneteenth commemoration played a prominent role in the public consciousness.
For many white Americans, the recent protests sparked by the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery all within a few months have driven their awareness of Juneteenth, a holiday that celebrates the end of chattel slavery in the United States first celebrated in 1867.
On the morning of June 19, the City of St. Petersburg pulled out all the stops in commemorating Juneteenth with a colorful mural.
It all started when Terri Lipsey Scott, executive director of the Carter G. Woodson African American Museum, decided a Black Lives Matter mural should sit in front of the museum at 2240 9th Ave. S and be revealed on Juneteenth.
Lipsey Scott knew the proper channels to go through to get the job done. After contacting City Council member Lisa Wheeler Bowman, the pair met with Mayor Rick Kriseman and Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin. Ecstatic about the idea, they funded the whole project.
Cultural Affairs Director Wayne Atherholt asked the St. Petersburg Arts Alliance to help find artists to complete the colorful mural. Jenee Priebe, associate director of the city’s Shine mural festival, was tasked with finding 16 diverse local artists to complete one letter each in the Black Lives Matter phrase.
Artist Plum Howlett, commissioned to design the second “T” in Matter, arrived at 5 a.m. to finish his masterpiece, which he describes as “a depiction of the lives sacrificed, starting with Colin Kapernick who sacrificed himself by taking a knee coming out of the earth with a rose in his mouth beside George Floyd.”
The 16 artists include:
B – Cheryl Weber (Jujmo)
L – John Gasgot
A – Painkiller Cam
C – Catherine Weaver
K – Nuclear Sky Art
L – Wayward Walls
I – Laura Spencer
V – James Hartzell
E – Artist Esh
S – Jade Jackson
M – James Kitchens
A – Megasupremo
T – Von Walters
T – Plum Howlett
E – Melanie Posner
R – Daniel Barojas
Juneteenth — also called Freedom Day, Jubilee Day, Liberation Day, and Emancipation Day — commemorates June 19, 1865, when General Gordon Granger entered Galveston, Texas, to announce that slaves were free. This announcement came two years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863.
In addition to marking a date of significance in American history, Juneteenth serves as a day of remembrance and an opportunity for African Americans to honor their history and celebrate black culture.
As the crowd gathered in front of the Woodson, the program opened with the reading of names while placing roses to commemorate the black lives lost to police brutality in the last decade.
The program featured prayer, singing of the Black National Anthem (Lift Every Voice), poems and speeches from state and local leaders, including Mayor Kriseman, Senator Darryl Rouson, County Commissioner Ken Welch and U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist.
“Juneteenth carries more meaning this year than most … it is again time for a change, a time for justice and a time for renewal,” said Crist.
Later this week, Congress will take key votes on reforms to the nation’s police system, banning the use of chokeholds and no-knock warrants, the requirement of mandatory body cameras and a computer system that will track corrupt cops nationally.
“We need to get back to community policing, our officers being a part of the community not apart from our community,” averred Crist.
Rouson called for citizens to seize the opportunity to effect change while America is listening.
“This is the time now; we must walk through this portal of opportunity with greatness on our minds. I’m proud to stand here and say that Black Lives Matter,” he said. “We have much work to do, the time is running out, the motor is cranked up, and we’re moving down the highway of destiny.”
Kriseman recognized Juneteenth in a proclamation, saying, “I want to proclaim what matters…Black Lives Matter in the Sunshine City.”
Former Tampa Bay Buccaneer and native son Louis Murphy, Jr. also took to the podium and quoted his seven-year-old daughter, Philomena, saying, “It’s going to take a lot of hugs, but we got this.”
Murphy was joined by fellow NFL players Shaquill and Shaquem Griffin, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Isaiah Wynn, Lidell Golden III, Rayshawn A Jenkins, Napoleon Maxwell, and Brad Muhammad — all of whom grew up in Pinellas County.
Lipsey Scott stood surrounded by the museum’s board members and express how grateful she is for her dream of a Black Lives Matter mural being fulfilled.
“May we forever realize the importance of this day as we celebrate, commemorate and preserve the legacy of the lives of black Americans. To those who’ve suggested that this extraordinary work of art has no place in this space, in this community, I say to you, when black lives mattered nowhere else in this city, they mattered here,” she exclaimed.
“Black lives mattered here before they mattered any place else. I say those who suggest that we devalue the sense of what this community represents, suggesting that we don’t deserve a beautiful mural that is not a reminder, but a declaration of what we know: that Black Lives Matter.”
The program closed with a song by Sierra Amora and a lyrical dance by Ericka Still across the new Black Lives Matter mural.