Every street has a racist past that never ended. Together with my neighbors, I painted a 336-foot mural that explores a history of systemic racism in one city, one street, one block—ours.
Our self-directed, self-funded (and self-approved) project became the largest Black Lives Matter mural in a city roiling with protest and violent state reprisals. The work functions as a 200-year timeline, with each 16-foot-tall letter relating a story of White riots and Black exclusion laws, busing and bulldozing, predatory lending and predatory police. The stories are visceral and grounded. I used active voice, plain language, census data, and my own secondary historical research to bare how the residents of our street and our neighborhood participated in the city’s larger story.
The response has been overwhelming.
Our sleepy residential street has seen thousands of visitors from around the city–walking slowly, snapping pictures, sharing on Instagram and inspiring the next wave after wave of neighbors to follow suit. Nearly every major local news outlet has covered the project at least once.
Even when somebody sprayed racist graffiti on the mural in mid-July, the reaction was powerful and positive. I posted on social that I would pay the $75 to fix the graffiti and I asked my few followers to match me with a donation to the Urban League of Portland. Friends and neighbors and strangers flooded my inbox with donation receipts. My agency, AHA inc, generously matched all donations.
The result: the mural raised over $16,000 for ULPDX and other local anti-racist nonprofits.
Personally, this project was a revelation. Through this work, I’ve had to reckon with my own life choices and the world I’ve created for myself. I’ve made friends and been influenced by them. I’m not sure where my life is going next. But this mural is clearly a jagged change in my direction, bending my path toward something more grounded and real and just.
Our past is racist. Our present is conveniently blind. And I am no longer willing to be a part of either. There is no going back.