ST. PETERSBURG — As protests triggered by the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery rage on around the world, Terri Lipsey Scott decided a Black Lives Matter mural should be painted in St. Petersburg.
The executive director of the Dr. Carter G. Woodson African American Museum thought a good home would be in front of the museum at 2240 9th Ave. S. And she wanted it to be unveiled on Juneteenth, the celebration commemorating the end of slavery.
“I love the idea of starting where our history is held,” she said. “Why not start at home base?”
That was only a few weeks ago. She turned to St. Petersburg City Council member Lisa Wheeler Bowman, and the two went to the city’s mayor and deputy mayor, who decided to greenlight and completely fund the mural. Wayne Atherholt, director of the mayor’s office of cultural affairs, was looped in last week and turned to the St. Petersburg Arts Alliance, who run the Shine mural festival, for help finding artists.
Jenee Priebe, associate director of Shine, was pulled in to start assembling artists and by Tuesday, she secured 16 Tampa Bay artists, one for each letter of the phrase Black Lives Matter.
The artists are: Cheryl Weber a.k.a. Jujmo, John Gascot, Cam Parker, Catherine Weaver, Nuclear Sky Art, Jason Harvin (Wayward Walls), Laura Spencer, James Hartzell, Eric Hornsby (Esh), Jade Jackson, James Kitchens, David Cabassa (Megasupremo) JaVon Walters, Plum Howlett Melanie Posner and Daniel Barojas.
Scott wanted diversity in the participating artists and Priebe delivered: There are a variety of races and ages in the group.
Instead of the monochromatic, solid block letters that murals in other cities have, they decided to use the color palette from the museum’s flyer announcing its Juneteenth celebration and let each artist create a mini mural within each letter.
“This is St. Pete,” Priebe said. “If we’re going to do it, let’s do it how St. Pete would do it, put some color and a little art in it.”
With a planned unveiling at the museum’s Juneteenth celebration on Friday, painting had to happen fast. John Collins of the St. Petersburg Arts Alliance likened it to producing the Shine festival in a day.
The Vitale Brothers were hired to get the outline of the letters painted and primed. They worked overnight on Wednesday, using a lift and a 12,000 lumens projector to shine the letters onto the street.
On Thursday, the 16 artists had a six-hour window to finish their creations. Many didn’t know what they would do until they got there.
Laura Spencer of St. Petersburg got the letter “I” and decided to transform it into a brown crayon.
“I’ve been wanting to do something for the Black Lives Matter movement,” she said. “I’ve been trying to devote my social media postings to awareness and education and my own journey in education, so when this came up I knew I wanted to be involved. I want to give my time and my artistic resources to something bigger than myself.”
Tampa-born, St. Petersburg-based Jade Jackson filled the “S” with floating, jellyfish-like figures.
“I wanted to paint something that would bring joy and inspiration to the community while bringing awareness,” she said. “Because I know kids will see this.”
Tampa’s Eric Hornsby brought his friend and art collaborator Meclina Priestly along and filled the “E” in “Lives” with the face of a woman with a “mad defiant” expression and African runes that symbolize unity and community, initiatives, support, wisdom and endurance.
Cam Parker got the “A” in “Black” and was inspired by his grandmother to paint portraits of glamorous black women. He said the experience was special because all of the artists feel collectively passionate about Black Lives Matter. It felt like a community.
JaVon Walters painted a black power fist with chains in the first “T” in “Matter.” He said he wants to do more projects like this one and is hopeful that change will finally come.
Daniel Barojas painted a protester carrying a sign that reads “Future Equality” in the “R.” It’s the last letter in the mural, so Barojas conceived that he was marching off into the future.
The mural was completed on time for Friday’s 9:30 a.m. Juneteenth program, which was filled with a sermon, songs, a dance performance, poems and speeches by community leaders, including U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, Florida Senator Darryl Rouson and St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman.
Former Tampa Bay Buccaneers player Louis Murphy Jr. gave a speech while surrounded by fellow NFL players Shaquill and Shaquem Griffin, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Isaiah Wynn, Rayshawn Jenkins, Brad Muhammad, Napoleon Maxwell and Lidell Golden III. And his seven-year-old daughter, Filomena.
Kriseman gave a proclamation recognizing Juneteenth and declaring that Black Lives Matter “in the Sunshine City.”
“What an extraordinary day today is in St. Petersburg,” Scott said in her speech.
She continued: “May we forever realize the importance of this day as we celebrate, commemorate and preserve the legacy of 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. 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.”
“I’m over the moon,” Scott said after the program ended. “This is my dream on steroids.”