By Rodrigo Torrejon | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
Activists and painters joined together Friday and Saturday to emblazon a message on the streets of Paterson: Black Lives Matter.
On Friday, activists from the city’s Black Lives Matter group began painting a Black Lives Matter street mural on Broadway, extending from Church Street to Straight Street, said Zellie Thomas, a group organizer.
The mural begins roughly in front of the city’s Underground Railroad Memorial, to send a loud and clear message about the Black Lives Matter movement that has seen a global resurgence since the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25.
“It wasn’t just about having the mural,” said Thomas, who is also a math teacher in Paterson’s public schools. “It was about having it in front of the Underground Railroad Memorial, a place that was actually saving Black lives.”
“The abolition movement was the original Black Lives Matter movement,” Thomas added. “And having it in front of a memorial dedicated to that is the most powerful location in Paterson.”
The mural was approved by the mayor’s office Wednesday, but was met with immediate pushback in late June, when it was first proposed, Thomas said. Initially, activists wanted the mural to start closer to the city’s Frank X. Graves Jr. Public Safety Complex. But the opposition came fast and swift, he said.
“It’s been an uphill battle trying to get the mural started,” Thomas said.
“We got a lot of pushback. A lot of pushback,” he added. “They didn’t want to offend anybody or cause any conflict. When they were saying those words, they were meaning they didn’t want to offend police officers or start any trouble with the police officers.”
Ultimately, the mural will start at Church Street, steps away from the police department headquarters. Paterson Police Chief Ibrahim “Michael” Baycora declined to comment about the mural.
Mayor Andre Sayegh agreed the symbolism of the mural starting at the Underground Railroad Memorial was important.
“The Underground Railroad is a sacred and significant site which symbolizes what Black Lives Matter means,” Sayegh said.
Activists hope to have the mural completed by Sunday at the latest, at which point there will be an unveiling event, Thomas said.
Paterson is the latest city to paint Black Lives Matter street murals, joining towns like Newark, Jersey City and Highland Park in painting the message for all to see.
As the third largest city in New Jersey, Paterson was overdue for a mural, Thomas said. He hopes the mural will convey what he sees as the core message of the movement, one obfuscated by detractors.
“We’ve been fighting in the Black Lives Matter movement for so long and trying to convince people that this movement wasn’t a hate movement or a divisive movement, but a movement of unity and love,” the teacher said. “So to see cities finally embracing Black Lives Matter and doing it boldly was powerful to us.”