Responding To Hate And Racism With Love And Unity In Ypsilanti

Sep 21, 2021

The vandalized Black Lives Matter mural at Riverside Park in Ypsilanti.
Credit Trische' Duckworth

Since June 2021, two Black Lives Matter murals adorned downtown Ypsilanti and Riverside Park. The idea was to inspire community unity in the call for an end to racism and  injustice for people of color. Over the weekend, vandals splashed white paint all over the Riverside Park BLM mural. "Survivors Speak" founder and executive director Trische' Duckworth helped bring those murals to life. She joined WEMU's David Fair to discuss the process of moving forward. 


TRANSCRIPTION:

David Fair: This is 89 one WEMU. I'm David Fair. Over the weekend, we saw racism rears its ugly head in Ypsilanti. Now, early this year, Ypsilanti City Council sanctioned two murals, and in June, in bright yellow lettering, the words Black Lives Matter were painted in two locations in the city. It was meant as a display of community unity and support. Over the weekend, vandals struck at the mural on the drive to Riverside Park, covering the words "Black Lives." They covered it with white paint. Now the word "Matter" was left unharmed, but most certainly it's an incident that is harmful. Joining us on WEMU today is Trische' Duckworth. Trische' is founder and executive director of the activist group Survivors Speak. And she was a driving force in getting approval to have those murals painted in Ypsilanti. Thank you for the time today. 

Survivors Speak executive director Trische' Duckworth
Credit Trische' Duckworth

Trische' Duckworth: Thank you for having me. I appreciate you sharing. 

David Fair: How did you first hear the mural at Riverside had been defaced? 

Trische' Duckworth:  Oh, I was in Flint. My dad was in the hospital. My mom had fallen. And so I was there, you know, to take care of my parents. And you probably know Yodit Mesfin-Johnson messaged us with the pictures. And I could not believe it. 

David Fair: So, that was your gut reaction? You couldn't believe it, but it had to--

Trische' Duckworth: Well, no. Let me take that back. Let me take it back. I could believe it, right? Because we expected it. But to see it actually happen, it was just kind of devastating. 

David Fair: Now, the vandals had spelled out the name of a group that has been declared a white nationalist hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. And they're certainly not going to get any recognition by having me announce their name. As a woman of color, how unnerving is it to know you're still walking the same streets with people that subscribe to such notions? 

Trische' Duckworth: Oh, you know, I took my yesterday. I don't get fearful or scared often, but it was a little unnerving, definitely, that these individuals could muster up that amount of hatred. And what else could they do? You know, because if you could do that and display that kind of hate, you could do anything. 

David Fair: At this point, there are no suspects in custody or, as far as I know, even persons of interest. However, it is worth noting, there was a white group of people that stopped by a showing of the documentary film "Walking While Black: Love is the Answer." Now, that was offered up Thursday as part of an outdoor movie series in Ypsilanti, and Mayor Lois Richardson took note of that as she tried to digest the weekend vandalism. Were you at the movie showing? 

Trische' Duckworth: No, I was down with my parents. I didn't hear about that until I came back to see the desecration of the mural. 

David Fair: But again, the name of the movie "Walking While Black," and then here we are in the middle of Ypsilanti and walking while Black again seems somewhat dangerous. 

Trische' Duckworth: Yeah, you know, we went down there yesterday morning again just to digest what had happened, and there was an elderly Black woman there and she said, "You know, this part now somehow feels unsafe." She said, "I walk here every morning, but this feels unsafe to me." That was devastating to hear. 

David Fair: This is 89 one WEMU. And we're talking about the racist vandalism that saw a Black Lives mural in Ypsilanti defaced over the weekend. Our guest is executive director of Survivors Speak, trische' Duckworth, I noticed yesterday, Trische', the city had sent out some crews to power wash the mural that had been graffitied at Riverside Park. And early on, anyway, it appeared as though a good portion of that white paint covering was coming off. You know how that ended up? Was it successful? 

Trische' Duckworth: So, no. I'll be headed over there this morning to take a look and see, but it looks like it was really doing, like, it was really lifting. So, we're hopeful that it was removed and that we can have a better canvas to repaint. 

David Fair:  I imagine it was a good feeling to see city officials shift into high gear and so quickly to address the issue right away. 

Trische' Duckworth: Yeah. Oh, my goodness. It was just amazing, you know, to see the city just say, "Hey, no. We are going." And as a matter of fact, we had gotten volunteers that said they were coming to power wash it, and the city had already jumped into action. So, we didn't even need to utilize the volunteers. And so, it's just a good feeling that everyone--when I say everyone--the momentum behind this is just building. And so, it's just great for us all to come together. So, that's the only way that we're going to win this thing. 

David Fair: Well, Ypsilanti City Council is going to meet tonight, Trische', and this is a matter that has been added to the agenda. Have you had any preliminary discussions with city officials as to what will be discussed and what direction we collectively might move forward towards? 

Trische' Duckworth: Yes, so we are wanting to just meet with the city to--number one--keep everyone on the same page, right? They are the officials that are governing the city. So, absolutely no decision should be made without them. And so, we just wanted to go before them and have a thoughtful discussion about what we should do. What we would like to see done is to actually have the drive completed with asphalt sealing. This, in fact, will give us a blank canvas. There are some places where gravel is missing there. So, this would, again, just give us a blank canvas that we need to really make this look good. And then, after we paint it, we can put down anti-graffiti clear coat, which will keep vandals from destroying the mural as they have done this time. Even if they were to paint it, we could power wash that right off. And that's what's up under there.--the Black Lives Matter--would be intact. 

David Fair: Now, there is a second Black Lives Matter mural in Ypsilanti. You can find it on South Washington Street near Michigan Avenue. Would you plan on clear coating that as well, just in case?

Trische' Duckworth: Yes, we definitely plan on clear coating that as well. You know, it's very heavily populated downtown. There are cameras and everything. But, you know, we are dealing with people like this. Sometimes, it's like the world's dumbest criminals. And so, we want to go ahead and take care of that, too, just in case they decide they want to go and try to destroy that as well. And when I say world's dumbest criminals, meaning that they left their footprints with white paint as they walked off from doing this desecration to the mural. So....

David Fair: Well, I'm glad you brought up the notion of cameras, because, downtown, they are prevalent. And that is certainly something that somebody who wanted to vandalize might avoid. Would you now like to see the Riverside Park mural monitored in that same way? 

Trische' Duckworth: Yes, that will be another ask from city council about installing cameras there and bright lights. And the beautiful thing about it, we've had community members actually step up and offer to give cameras to the city for this effort. So, I mean, everybody is truly vested. Not everybody, but those that really care about Black lives are truly vested in making sure that this mural is restored. And like we always say, this is much more than a mural. This is a statement for us to come together and to uplift Black lives here in Ypsilanti. 

David Fair: Now, on the matter of surveillance camera, it comes with some issues of its own. Many in the BIPOC community have spoken out against the great number of surveillance cameras in Ypsilanti, feeling it can lead to more racial profiling and monitoring by law enforcement. So, how do you reconcile those concerns with the desire to protect such a vital symbol of community unity? 

Trische' Duckworth: I definitely understand the criminalization of Black people by cameras and facial recognition and things of that nature. This is definitely not the goal of these cameras. You know, we would be requesting that the cameras are directly on the mural and that if anything were to ever happen again, we would have the viewpoint to see who actually did the damage. We definitely don't want this to be used as something that would bring more harm to Black lives. And we're trying to uplift Black lives.

David Fair: Once again, we're talking with Survivors Speak founder Trische' Duckworth on Eighty-Nine one WEMU. Trische', in following social media posts about this incident since it became public, there's been an outpouring of outrage over the incident. And it's coming from people of all colors and all walks of life in Washtenaw County. Is a potential silver lining in this racist incident that it actually forges greater determination among the community in the fight against racism? 

Trische' Duckworth: Oh, my goodness, that is a great question, and I'll tell you, just like I told someone the other day. I want to tell these clowns--and yes, I call them clowns. And thank you for not saying their name, by the way. But I want to tell these clowns thank you. Thank you for an opportunity to come together with the community and heal. Thank you for an opportunity for us to come together and build and to bond. What they did was tried to cause harm, but what they've done is allowed momentum to be built for more of us to come together and to jump on board. Sometimes, it's easy for people that don't experience racism to not pay attention. When something happens like this, everybody is on watch. We have more work to do. So, it has been a blessing to see people just come together from all walks of life--our Asian siblings, our Caucasian siblings, our Black and brown siblings, everybody to uplift and to restore this beautiful art in Riverside Park. 

David Fair: In our previous conversations, Trische', you have always said that to win the fight against racism, it's going to have to be done with love. Does that become more difficult when you experience something this overt? 

Trische' Duckworth: No, it increases the love. As Dr Martin Luther King said, "The only thing that cancels out hate is love." So, yes. But also on the flipside of that, when you love somebody, you tell them the truth. So, love doesn't mean you don't hold people accountable, but love means that you possess that and you move forward in that state, so that you don't cause more harm yourself. And for us, it's just about unity and love and coming together, and that's how we grow stronger. 

David Fair: And I think that's a really positive note to end on. Thank you so much for your time and perspective today, Trische'.

Trische' Duckworth: Thank you for having me as always, Mr. Fair.

David Fair: That is Trische' Duckworth, founder and executive director of the activist group Survivors Speak and one of the people responsible for the effort that resulted in two Black Lives Matter murals in Ypsilanti. I'm David Fair, and this is 89 one WEMU FM and WEMU HD one Ypsilanti. 

Non-commercial, fact based reporting is made possible by your financial support.  Make your donation to WEMU today to keep your community NPR station thriving.

Like 89.1 WEMU on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

— David Fair is the WEMU News Director and host of Morning Edition on WEMU.  You can contact David at 734.487.3363, on twitter @DavidFairWEMU, or email him at dfair@emich.edu