Slogans are sometimes hijacked. Created by radical Black organizers Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi, #BlackLivesMatter was initially a battle cry after George Zimmerman was acquitted in the murder of Trayvon Martin. When the phrase gained traction and coalesced into a national movement, it was much to the chagrin of white racists who still call the movement a hate group. Today the words have traveled and the meaning has become more complex: It’s a hashtag that floods our newsfeeds, widely proclaimed by museums with few Black curators or predominantly white programming, by retail and restaurant businesses with documented racist policies.
The hypocrisy has been disorienting. How do we ensure these sayings maintain their integrity? How do we prevent these movements from getting co-opted by powerful actors with no intention of following through on their declaration that Black Lives Matter?
Street murals are being painted all over the country, one response to the current state of protest against racism, police brutality, and oppression. In Baltimore, artist/curator Jamie Grace Alexander’s “Black Trans Lives Matter” mural, recently painted across two blocks of Charles Street in the Old Goucher neighborhood, is meaningful for several reasons. For one, its physical location—a stretch of road known as “the stroll,” often frequented by sex workers—makes it all the more potent that Alexander, a Black trans woman, organized and executed this project, reclaiming space and beautifying the neighborhood in a way that’s not superfluous. It’s also located near Baltimore Safe Haven (BSH), Alexander’s collaborative partner on this project, a small nonprofit that materially supports Black trans folks to affirm that their lives do matter.
Over the course of several hours on July 17, Alexander and her collaborators operated in tandem with the city and BSH to orchestrate a large-scale public art project, painting those words in gradated shades of baby blue, pink, and white, reflecting the Transgender Pride Flag.