The Black Lives Matter street art in Los Angeles is a unique signage. Designer Luckie Alexander, an activist and artist and the founder of Invisible Men, was instrumental in ensuring that wording painted on the LA street — though it followed a similar structure as in D.C., Charlotte and Seattle — would stand testament to ALL Black lives.
The police killing of Tony McDade, a Black trans man killed right after George Floyd, caused far less of a reaction than the massive uprisings across the U.S. that followed Floyd. Alexander, who is also Black and trans, did not want the trans community pushed to the sidelines of the Black Lives Matter movement.
That required the use of one short but powerful word: “We need to include the word ‘all,’” Alexander said. “Can we change the colors up — can we change what this looks like? Can we really give a message without having to put a whole lot of letters or a whole lot of words on the ground? Can we really change this?”
When the piece of art was done, each letter stood 30 feet tall, running through two city blocks. Unlike the slogans of similar size on streets in other cities, the L.A. one includes colors that are significant to trans, LGBTQ and nonbinary community members, and “Black” is painted entirely in yellow; Alexander says these color choices commemorate that all lives matter. Yellow is used throughout the movement to encapsulate the various identities and experiences that exist within the Black community.
The goal of the mural is to bring awareness of the LGBT community that might be left out of the struggle, Alexander said. But he would also like to see “equity among the different organizations or equity among the community — the Black community — here would make more sense. Let’s make sure that Black folks are getting paid the same wage. Let’s make sure that Black males have equal opportunity, like true equal opportunity, to be able to go to a job and say, ‘OK, I meet the qualifications for this job,’ and not be turned away.”
Eventually, city officials deemed it time to remove the original street painting. Alexander didn’t want it to simply disappear. He and his fiancé were planning to get married next year. Since COVID affected those plans, the couple — both activists and advocates — decided to get married right on the artwork. “We had something of this magnitude intertwined into our fabric as a family,” Alexander said.
Efforts to remove the original art drew protesters, according to the Los Angeles Times. The Los Angeles City Council agreed to maintain a smaller version of it at the popular intersection of Hollywood Boulevard and Highland Avenue. Alexander says the artwork shrunk to a third of its original size, but it is permanent.
The location is everything, Alexander noted, because the artwork sends a powerful message: a nod not only to our current times of social change but to a large, varied group of people who will be touched by its presence.
“We did get buy-in from the stakeholders within that community and on that block — those two blocks that it occupies. You know, we went to those folks and said, ‘Hey, look, we want to do this.’ And they approved it,” Alexander said. “So that just sends a message to us that we do matter.”
Next, Alexander wants the piece of art to give back to the community, bringing in funding for Black-led organizations and community groups.
“If we’re going to put a message of ‘All Black Lives Matter’ on the ground, then ... let’s put our money where our mouth is, you know, our intentionality. We’re meant to be,” Alexander said.
Staff Reporter Ashley Archibald contributed to this report.
Kamna Shastri is a staff reporter covering narrative and investigative stories for Real Change. She has a background in community journalism. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @KShastri2
Read more in the Oct. 14-20, 2020 issue.