One could argue that the city of San Jose putting up street lamp banners around City Hall adorned with the slogan “Black Lives Matter” is synonymous with co-opting yells of protest that neutralize the message by making it mainstream.
But that was certainly not what someone was saying in a town hall that was unveiled Thursday morning where leaders, including mayors, were Sam Liccardo and Vice Mayor Chappie Jones promised the banners were the beginning of a call to action – not the end.
“The unveiling of the Black Lives Matter banners at City Hall is an important step towards recognizing that we cannot begin the ‘all life matters’ conversation until we realize and acknowledge that black life matters,” said Jones . “Symbols and statements have meaning and express to the world what our values as a city are.”
Designer Cherise Orange stands in front of a poster of Black Lives Matter she created, along with street lamp banners that will be on display at San Jose City Hall on Thursday, October 29, 2020. (Sal Pizarro / Bay Area News Group)
Jones called on the public and private sectors, as well as nonprofits and community organizations, to work together to eradicate the economic, political and social changes and eradicate centuries of racial injustice. “Symbols are not enough. If we are to make significant changes, we need time, talent and money, ”said Jones.
But in this case the symbol – the banner themselves – is very important, especially for Cherise Orange, the owner of the creative marketing company You Just Got Oranged, who designed it. It based the colors – black, red, and green – on the pan-African flag and contained the words “Voices. Dreams. Futures. “
Another banner sits on either side of a notice board in Town Hall Square, where visitors and town hall staff can easily see it. From a distance it looks like the letters “BLM” in white on a black and red background. But if you get very close, you’ll see that each letter is made up of names – 575 in total, representing black men and women who were killed over decades. Some, like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Emmett Till, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd are historically famous, but they are joined by dozens of others whose deaths made no headlines.
“This mural is a memorial to all of the black Americans who were killed, hunted, and murdered in the United States,” Orange said. “You have no more life. You cannot dream of possibilities, have a future in a world that one day will not see the color of your skin as a threat. So we have to be the voice for them and triumph over racism at all levels. “
The banner project grew out of the May protests against the assassination of George Floyd, when activists in San Jose painted the words “Black Lives Matter” in white on a street near Backesto Park. The city couldn’t approve the street painting due to state and federal laws, but Liccardo said the city should do something “prominent” to get the message the community wanted. He held out his hand LaToya Fernandez – the founder of YouthHype, a nonprofit empowering younger voices – which was part of the street wall campaign.
Fernandez appreciated Liccardo’s reach, but said they needed to bring more people to the table. “We have to bring the youth with us, we have to involve the community’s stakeholders,” said Fernandez, his 10-year-old daughter Lyric Bryantalso spoke at the event. “The city of San Jose was open to this. You welcomed the youth to the table and we managed to do it. “
Kerry Adams Hapner, the city’s director of cultural affairs, said the banners will be on display until at least February – Black History Month – and is the first phase of a major effort to have an ongoing, rotating banner project that will attract local artists to the Issues to spread the racial justice.