Artist reacts after Black Lives Matter mural vandalized

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — A Black Lives Matter mural was vandalized. It’s on the side of Flying Squirrel, a community building in Corn Hill.

The mural was made to condemn hate and injustice. The content that’s about to be described is disturbing. The graffiti was found last Friday. One artist tells News10NBC she feels racism is a sickness that has not yet been healed, and that when she found out it was vandalized, she was shocked, but wasn’t surprised.

"I wasn’t too sad about it, it just showed how relevant the mural really is, and how important it is and it shows that racism still exists,” said one of the three artists who created the mural, Nzinga Muhammad.

On the mural, behind the artist’s brush, lies a strong message.

"Representing the different kinds of Blackness in the community, and serving as an anti-racism protest, like the Black power fist that’s displayed in the mural holding picket signs that the graffiti or vandalism was spray-painted over,” Muhammad said.

The vandalism contained acronyms, symbols and numbers, describing white supremacy, the Nazi party and other disturbing images. The mural was made in 2017. With a brush in hand, each stroke of paint made by Nzinga Muhammad, Etana Browne, and Kaori-Mei Stephens was personal and meant to be an inspiration for all activists.

"I do want people to understand and know, that there is so much work to do, it doesn’t matter how many Black mayors, how many people of color we have in higher positions of power, it does not matter racism is alive and well in the city but also in the country as well,” Muhammad added.

The other artists, as well as other community organizations, did give statements, on how disturbing this is for the community.

“Our mural in corn hill was the biggest message we could put in the city, to reassure and bring power to our people and to show we’re always ready to fight back. For white supremacists to try and destroy and defile our art just shows the real issue in the world that we work so hard to overcome,” Etana Browne said.

“The best memory I have while creating this mural is when a little girl walked by, pointed up, and said “that looks like me.” at that moment I understood the power that art has to uplift and inspire and I felt so proud to be part of this work. Learning about the hateful vandalism, I was saddened but not surprised. What they did could — and has already been undone. But what they can never do is take away our hope, our pride, or our joy. In fact, this ignorant act only gives us another opportunity to talk about and celebrate black diversity,” Kaori-Mei Stephens said.

Roc Paint Division and Wall Therapy released the following statement:

“We were informed on November 13th that the #BlackLivesMatter mural by Roc Paint Division alumni Etana Browne, Nzinga Muhammad, and Kaori-Mei Stephens painted for walltherapy 2017 was vandalized by white supremacists. We promptly took action to repair the damage, restoring it to its original form. Rather than give any recognition to hate, we want to highlight the mural and celebrate its powerful message once again.”

Rabbi Drorah Setel, with Temple Emanu-El released the following statement:

“In 1883, in response to rising anti-Semitic violence in Europe, the Jewish author Emma Lazarus declared, "Until we are all free, we are none of us free." the hateful graffiti which defaced the flying squirrel’s black lives matter mural is yet another reminder that the fates of oppressed and marginalized communities are intertwined. It was not coincidental that the two specific groups targeted by the perpetrators were blacks and Jews. The foundation of white Christian supremacist ideology is a virulent mix of racism and antisemitism, in which a Jewish conspiracy is believed to underwrite and organize freedom movements for people of color.

Those who deny the full humanity of blacks and Jews also attack Muslims, LGBTQ+ people, immigrants and anyone else who does not accord with their vision of a heteronormative white Christian America.

Acts such as the mural’s desecration are intended to make us fearful. I have to admit they succeed when I think about the fact that they represent the tip of an iceberg of hatred lying beneath the surface of our community. They also bring up previous acts of violence, re-awakening traumatic memories shared beyond lifetimes. But I believe that we have the choice to act out of hope and love rather than despair and hate. In fact we must. Based on his understanding of the Hindu sacred text, the Bhagavad Gita, the rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Taught, "Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that."

In Jewish tradition love is expressed through action. It is not enough to think well of others in the abstract; we are obligated to behave in ways that demonstrate that regard. As we consider our response to this attack, let us begin by reaffirming our commitment to act in solidarity with one another and to the foundational belief that "Until we are all free, we are none of us free.”

Since the vandalism, the mural has been restored to its original state.