George Floyds brother, Eric Garners mother visit N.J. for painting of BLM mural

 nj.com  08/01/2020 22:22:24   Josh Axelrod | jaxelrod@njadvancemedia.com

Joined by a slate of guests including George Floyds brother, Terrence Floyd, and Eric Garners mother, Gwendolyn Carr, New Jerseys fourth-largest city painted and dedicated a Black Lives Matter mural across the street from its City Hall.

Community groups in Elizabeth received permission from the city to paint the words, Black Lives Matter, on Martin Luther King Jr. Plaza in bold letters, emblematic of a national movement which gained exponential traction in the wake of Floyds death at the hands of police in Minnesota in May. The activists worked with city and local police officials to put on the event, which was attended by the police director and other officers who interacted with the crowd.

We have to come out and we must protest, Carr said to the crowd. We cant only say Black Lives Matter when there is a police killing. Black lives are supposed to always matter. Black lives are supposed to matter when the school system is failing us, when the job market is not giving us a fair living wage& Thats when Black lives matter also and this is what we should be screaming about.

The two spoke to the crowd of more than 100, almost all Black residents, many wearing shirts that read I know Black Lives Matter, do you? urging them to apply the murals message beyond the realm of police violence.

I just want to thank everyone for coming out, showing love to the cause, being down for change, because its needed, Terrence Floyd said during brief comments to the crowd. Especially in our communities and in our culture, its needed.

He told NJ Advance Media Carrs presence prompted him to come to the event.

I decided to come out here to support Mama Carr. Shes been in this movement for some years and now that Im in it, Im helping her like shes helping me, Floyd told NJ Advance Media. Its a movement, its not a moment.

That was the message that underlaid the 2-hour ceremony sponsored by the New Jersey Legacy Foundation and the Elizabeth Youth Theater Ensemble, which included speeches, prayers and painting. Some, however, felt that the murals dedication rang hollow without a commitment of action from the city, which has grappled with policing issues in a city whose population is about 19% Black and 65% Hispanic.

Last year, Elizabeth Police Director James Cosgrove resigned after an inquiry found he used racist and sexist slurs against his staff and Mayor Chris Bollwage earned criticism for his staunch defense of Cosgrove. Elizabeths police force is now helmed by Earl Graves, its first Black director.

Protesters held signs that read, If Black Lives Matter, defund EPD, and How about accountability? and activist Kason Little declined to attend the event, accusing the mayor of using the mural for political cover. Bollwage was not in attendance, according to an event organizer, and the city did not immediately respond to a request for comment Saturday.

Other speakers said the mural was a positive step in the right direction that needs to be followed up with more action.

Black Lives Matter is not a trend, Janay Martinez, a poet with the Elizabeth Youth Ensemble, told the crowd. Towns all over are simply slapping Black Lives Matter on the ground and calling it change. Making it such a big thing, when they arent doing anything else to help my people. That is not change, this is not change, let this be the stepping stone to implementing change.

Reverend George E. Britt, who delivered the closing prayer, echoed Martinezs sentiment, calling for renewed investment in the community.

Its not about a painting, its beyond a painting, Britt told NJ Advance Media. This is a symbol of affirmation, of consent  we gotta build on that now and bring about the change that really makes this live.

Elizabethan Bree Maejor, 19, was selected to paint the letters, which have appeared on streets across the nation in cities like Newark and Washington D.C. She began on Friday, working from 4 to 10 p.m. and continued at 5 a.m. on Saturday until the ceremony at noon, with the help of volunteers.

The yellow letters are accompanied by a fist and six lines representing The Big Six of civil rights leaders: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Congressman John Lewis, A. Philip Randolph, James Farmer, Roy Wilkins and Whitney Young.

Blocks were left unpainted in the letters, where designated community members like Donna Alexander, President of the Urban League of Union County, and Rev. Leonard Grayson, the Acting President of Elizabeth NAACP, were asked to fill them in.

Also in attendance were Al Michaels, the nephew of transgender activist Marsha P. Johnson, Assemblyman Jamel C. Holley, the first Black lawmaker to represent New Jerseys 20th district and organizer Lawrence Hamm, who made an unsuccessful bid for the Senate this year.

Johnson, an Elizabeth native, was a central figure in the Stonewall riots, viewed as one of the seminal moments in the gay liberation movement. Recently, a petition gained more than 165,000 signatures calling for the replacement of a Christopher Columbus statue in Elizabeth with one of Johnson. On Tuesday, the Elizabeth City Council issued a commendation to Johnson for her pioneering work in trans rights and revolutionary LGBTQIA+ activism.

Martha P. Johnson was about civil rights  not just gay rights, LGBTQ+ rights  Martha was about rights, and she fought for everyone, Michals said to the crowd. And she would be honored that her hometown, her city, Elizabeth, New Jersey is recognizing her today.

Prior to the ceremony, a white man stormed onto the scene of the mural, shouting All Lives Matter. Event organizer Kim Nesbitt Good approached him, offering a handshake and then a hug, and moving him away from the mural.

After telling the story during the ceremony, Good left attendees with her message: Lets just love one another.

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Josh Axelrod may be reached at jaxelrod@njadvancemedia.com. Tell us your coronavirus story or send a tip here.

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