BY RAVEN JOY SHONEL, Staff Writer
ST. PETERSBURG – The community came out to celebrate a new mural in front of The Woodson African American Museum of Florida on Juneteenth, Monday, June 19.
The Woodson, in partnership with the City of St. Petersburg and the St. Petersburg Arts Alliance, led a community effort to reimagine the Black Lives Matter mural unveiled on Juneteenth 2020 in front of the museum at 2240 9th Ave. S.
“The Woodson Museum is in the moment — diversity, equity, inclusion, and history are here to stay,” said Terri Lipsey Scott, the Woodson Museum executive director. “I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, our museum will continue to work to educate others about Black history and ensure that it is preserved, presented, celebrated, and commemorated!”
The Black Lives Matter mural stretched over a block long and was created in response to the death of George Floyd and other African Americans brutally murdered by the police. This year’s message is also on point: Black History Matters.
With Gov. Ron DeSantis’ attempts to erase Black History from the Florida curriculum and other projects, such as vetoing $1 million from Valencia College’s budget to create a film about the Ocoee Election Day Massacre in 1920, and $160,000 for a Black History Month festival in Orlando highlighting the health disparities Black people face in America, the mural’s message is right on time.
“We’re coming together to unveil a remarkable symbol, a mural that represents hope, strength, and character,” said Mayor Ken Welch, noting he’s proud of the creative Juneteenth collaboration.
U.S. Congresswoman Kathy Castor announced that the Woodson Museum has been awarded a $300,000 federal grant.
“Black history is all of our history,” Castor said.
“They cannot erase the fact that African Americans have been major contributors to the building of this country, the building of this city, the building of this county, and the building of this state,” said Senator Darryl Rouson.
Other officials on hand included Pinellas County Commissioner Rene Flowers, Pinellas County School Board Member Caprice Edmond, City Council Vice-Chair Deborah Figgs-Sanders, City Council Member Richie Floyd and Dr. Kanika Tomalin, president and CEO of the Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg.
The celebration included dancing, spoken word artists, music and marveling at the new colorful mural.
On June 15 and 16, local artists, the Vitale Brothers, resurfaced the roadway and outlined the new masterpiece. All day Saturday, 19 local artists came together and painted the letters.
Artist Catherine Weaver, who painted the “C” in the Black Lives Matters mural in 2020, was assigned the “Y” this year. She aptly said “Y” stands for “why?”
“Why are we still going through the changes we’re going through in 2023? Why? Why do we still have to fight for our rights?”
She hopes this year’s mural will educate and spark conversation, leading to change.
Daniel “R5” Barojas painted the “R” with his interpretation of a Black Seminole and traditional Seminole attire. He also painted the “R” in the 2020 mural. James Kitchens is also a repeat artist from the Black Lives Matter mural. This year he painted the “M” with a picture of Muhammad Ali, stating that he was a fighter and we’re fighting for Black history.
The other artists include Crit (Laura Spencer), Esh (Eric Hornsby), Cyrus Fire, Raheem Fitzgerald, John Gascot, James E. Hartzell, Vera Herrera, Plum Howlet, Jade Jackson, Reid Jenkins, Jujmo (Cheryl Weber), Cam Parker, Reda3sb, Javon Walters, David Watson and Wayward Walls (Jason Harvin).
Juneteenth — also called Freedom Day, Jubilee Day, Liberation Day and Emancipation Day — commemorates June 19, 1865, when General Gordon Granger entered Galveston, Texas, to announce that the enslaved men and women were free. This revelation came two years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863.
In addition to marking a date of significance in American history, Juneteenth serves as a day of remembrance and an opportunity for African Americans to honor their history and celebrate black culture.
Ninth Avenue South between 22nd and 23rd Streets will be closed to cars until July 10.