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‘A lifeline of hope’: Black Lives Matter painted on street in Baltimore’s Patterson Park

Community activists painted Black Lives Matter on Linwood Avenue in Baltimore's Patterson Park neighborhood.
Community activists painted Black Lives Matter on Linwood Avenue in Baltimore's Patterson Park neighborhood. (Jerry Jackson)

Robbyn Lewis woke up Monday morning bracing for another week of whatever else 2020 has in store.

With a pandemic, an election and a difficult but long overdue reckoning on racism in policing and across our society — all as we near just the halfway point in the calendar — the year has felt more like a whirlwind, the state delegate said.

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“We’re all hungry for signs that there’s hope for us, as a city, as a people, as a nation,” she said.

So when Lewis saw photos circulating online Monday morning of a giant “Black Lives Matter” mural that had been painted in red letters on Linwood Avenue in Patterson Park overnight, she hurried over from her house a couple of blocks away in her muumuu and Crocs to get a look.

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“That mural made me feel that I had grabbed hold of a lifeline of hope,” she said. “We’re all hungry for something good, and there it was.”

Similar to the giant yellow Black Lives Matter lettering on what is now Black Lives Matter Plaza in Washington, D.C., the one in Patterson Park is among at least three such murals in Baltimore. Children in Upper Fells Point scrawled a large “Black Lives Matter” message in chalk on South Madeira Street, and “Defund the Police” was painted on Gay Street near City Hall during a recent police budget hearing.

Lewis half expected to become emotional at the sight of the Patterson Park mural, she said, but instead was moved by the sight of the neighbors and visitors who had come to see it and document it.

One visitor was taking a panoramic photo, trying to fit the whole thing into the frame. Another told her she lives in Dundalk but visits the park every day because it’s an oasis for her, Lewis said.

The overnight street art made for a great surprise for the neighborhood, she said.

“It wasn’t done with huge fanfare, and a ‘Look at me, aren’t we cool and progressive?' kind of approach,” Lewis said. “It was organized by the community and carried out in a beautiful way. It was unveiled as we opened our eyes and started a new week wondering what horrors are going to buffet us and knock us down this week. Instead we got to open our eyes and see something that was goodness and hope.”

That stretch of Linwood Avenue, between Pratt Street and Eastern Avenue, has been designated as a slow street to lower the amount of vehicle traffic and allow people more room to exercise with social distance. The lettering on the pavement is helping to reclaim the street for pedestrians, Lewis said.

“The Baltimore City [Department of Transportation] should be really energized and affirmed in selecting this road,” said Lewis, a Democrat who represents Baltimore. “A street that functioned as a highway a month ago is now a canvas for socially conscious art.”

Baltimore City Councilman Zeke Cohen, whose district includes the park, tweeted his support Monday.

“We have work to do to make it a reality,” the Democrat said in his tweet.

The neighbors who planned and painted the mural declined a request through Lewis to be interviewed about it.

While the Patterson Park Neighborhood Association was not behind the effort, the group supports the mural, which its president, Dave Werkmeister, called “really impressive.”

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“The statement Black Lives Matter really does stand on its own and speak for itself,” Werkmeister said. “I hope that people who may not fully understand what it means, or may misinterpret what it means, [that] it makes them think a little bit and encourages them to listen to Black voices in their community.”

Overhead photographs don’t quite capture the size of the mural, the neighborhood association president said, and he encouraged people to go see it in person.

“Hopefully, something that was done artistically, at a really neat scale, encourages people to think about what it really means,” he added.

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