How the DC Black Lives Matter Plaza sparked murals across the country

When Keyonna Jones received a call from a fellow artist on June 4 about a secret project starting in just a few hours, she had no idea it would lead to one of the most iconic images of the Black Lives Matter protests and spark other cities to take notice.

The lead artist told Jones that D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser had commissioned eight artists to paint a mural spelling out “Black Lives Matter” across two blocks of the street leading to the White House.

Jones, the executive director of the Congress Heights Arts and Culture Center, said some were nervous about the political consequences. Some were unsure of the possible backlash. Other artists wanted to remain anonymous. But she said she was happy to be a part of the project.

“Once I realized we were painting Black Lives Matter on 16th and K, which is just a few blocks down from the White House leading up to the White House, then I was definitely like, oh yeah, this is lit.”

Weeks later, she said there is value in creating art during this time.

“Art has a special place in life, and I felt like, for a minute during corona[virus] and quarantine season, people were starting to understand the value because they were just trying to express [themselves] and get things off their chest because it’s just a, you know, unprecedented time,” Jones said.

The historic mural she helped create has since been photographed from space, with Google maps marking the official destination Black Lives Matter Plaza.

Since the June 5 mural painting in D.C., more than 19 cities have followed suit with their own version in a show of support for demonstrators participating in Black Lives Matter protests for the fourth consecutive week across the country.

The D.C. chapter of Black Lives Matter released a statement condemning the mural. The group called the project “a performative distraction from real policy changes” and added, “This is to appease white liberals while ignoring our demands.”

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