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Black Lives Matter at School Mural

About the Mural

BLM at School Mural
Community discussions surrounding the development of the Black Lives Matter at School mural began on January 7, 2021, one day after the insurrection of our nation’s Capital.

Emotions were understandably high. So, as we convened as a community of caregivers, educators, artists, activists and concerned citizens on the day after, the burning question was, what did we want as a community from a collaborative Black Lives Matter at School mural?

“Not a bandaid!” was collectively trumpeted. “A mural that addresses racism authentically and honestly.” “Student work that celebrates Black culture from the student’s perspective.” “A place that provides ongoing growth and healing because the work toward anti-racism never ends.”  These were just a few of the requests.  

Rewind to May of 2020: the murder of George Floyd resulted in reckoning with my own silence as a white woman. When local artist Mary Beth Ihnken said she wanted to do a collaborative mural project with students in August of 2020, this Black Lives Matter at School mural was realized.  

student artwork for BLM at School mural

But how can two white women facilitate a Black Lives Matter at School mural? The image created by 6th grade Boynton student Freyja Hill stuck with me, “I understand that I will never understand...However, I stand with you.”

No person or child has been spared by the impact of the spread of COVID 19. The magnitude of the loss of life since 2020, particularly in the communities of color, is unfortunately placed within a long line of tragedies in the fight to end systemic racism and the pandemic of white supremacy.  

To be an anti-racist educator is to recognize that white supremacist culture pervades every part of our culture and seeks to further promote racist ideas. Author Bettina Love writes, "...educational reform will not happen in a vacuum...“ Educators can no longer simply, “close classroom doors and teach” or rely on an outspoken few to call out injustices. “The word racist is an adjective that describes a behavior” (Kendi). A commitment to anti-racist teaching and practices in education requires constant reflection, seeking of knowledge, desire to change practices and the courage to speak.    

This mural is a reflection of what students in ICSD want now and in the future. A warm thank you goes out to all the students, staff and caregivers who submitted work for this mural. In addition to the classroom work, there were numerous pieces submitted independently by students, a touching sign of their individual passion toward speaking up about racism. Thank you also to the mural development team, a group of dedicated students, caregivers, educators, artists, activists and citizens, who provided ongoing feedback and direction through the entire mural process.

Daphne Shululu
Fine & Performing Arts Director


About the Muralist, Mary Beth Ihnken

Mary Beth Inkhen

I had the privilege to work with the Ithaca City School District on a mural for Black Lives Matter at School. As a community artist of Ithaca for many years, my public art does not typically center on social justice themes. I felt the need to step up to the plate in 2020-2021 because of what was happening in our country and community. I know the power of art and how it can heal and educate. Art can create discussion about hard topics which can help start the conversation about systemic racism. 

I had the honor to work alongside Fine Arts Director, Daphne Shululu on this project. There was an outpouring of student art from K-12 that included 2-D art, media, music, poetry, statements, 3-D art and dance. It inspired this mural and this year-long, collaborative project. 

The composition concept started first with the black power fist. Within the fist grip is a ribbon with the words Black Lives Matter at School inscribed. Surrounding the fist, students' artwork covers the space. The Mural background was inspired by the artist Kehinde Wiley and his ornate decorative backgrounds. The decorative motif fills the negative space between the students' artwork bringing the whole mural together visually. I think of this pattern design as our community that ties us all together.

I feel blessed and honored to be part of this great collaborative work of art with the Ithaca City School District.

Mary Beth Ihnken

This mural was funded in part by the Fine Arts Booster Group. Thank you!

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