A Black Lives Matter street mural in Oak Park was defaced early Wednesday, altered to read “All Lives Matter.”
A runner saw the vandalized painting and reported it to police, according to an officer on the scene.
The mural was painted with village approval as Oak Park joined a growing number of towns and cities putting up large Black Lives Matter art installations. The project was led by Cullen Benson and Cortlyn Kelly and designed by Franka Huanchicay.
The mural is on Scoville Avenue, just south of Lake Street in the near-west suburb. It was completed less than two weeks ago.
Vandalizers used black paint to paint over some of the letters, then altered others with white paper to morph the phrase “Black Lives Matter” into “All Lives Matter.”
Oak Park employees from the Department of Public Works power-washed the 100-foot-long painting during the day Wednesday, and the “Black” letters had been largely restored to their original form and color in time for a 5 p.m. news conference and rally.
Hundreds of community members at the rally used provided chalk to write supportive messages around the mural.
“While this morning sucked, it clearly has turned into something really beautiful,” Kelly told the crowd. “We created this mural to cause conversation. And it kind of did, and people were really thankful we did it. But the conversation didn’t really start until today, after it was defaced because a lot of people didn’t realize we had this problem.”
Makayla Pye — a rising junior at Oak Park-River Forest High School and one of the event’s organizers — then called on Oak Park residents to realize that racism exists within their community, despite its “reputation as a diverse and very liberal place.”
“‘Black Lives Matter’ should not be a controversial statement,” Pye said. “If you hear ‘Black Lives Matter’ and immediately your response is to say ‘All Lives Matter,’ that says a lot about how you perceive race.”
The village issued a statement “expressing sadness and disappointment” at the vandalism.
Benson, the 22-year-old lead organizer, is in Arizona and was unable to attend the rally. But his mother, Mak Flournoy, kept a watchful eye over cleanup efforts.
“This is a reminder that if white folks can’t give us a small mural on a side street in Oak Park, they won’t be able to give up much,” Flournoy said. “Sadly, I think that if they aren’t ready for this then they certainly won’t be ready for the things to really make this country, and this village, and state, better.”
Flournoy, who’s Black, said she was driven to tears this morning when she heard the news but was happy to see how the village responded. She said people can’t assume an Oak Park resident did this but it still speaks to racism in the United States overall.
“[The mural] is not going away, we are not going away, Black people are not going away,” Flournoy said. “We are here. We will be stronger and better.”
Manny Ramos is a corps member in Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster Sun-Times coverage of Chicago’s South and West sides.