DOBBINS HEIGHTS — Town officials unveiled a new “Black Lives Matter” mural at the Dobbins Heights Town Park on Tuesday.
The mural was painted over the past two weeks by “homegrown” artists Annie Renee Harden and Jayla Jasper Anderson.
Mayor Antonio Blue welcomed the small crowd — which included town residents, Sheriff James Clemmons, Rockingham City Manager Monty Crump, Richmond County Tourism Director Meghann Lambeth, Hamlet Police Chief Tommy McMasters, Hamlet City Councilman Maurice Stuart, and School Board member Ronald Tilman — to the informal ceremony.
“What we’re trying to show is we’re unified in everything that’s going on,” Blue said. “And we need to learn that racism is a learned behavior … we’ve just got to figure out what to do so people don’t learn it.”
Blue said the project was a vision he handed off to Mayor Pro Tem Tyre’ Holloway.
Harden is the department chair for Mechanical Engineering Technology at Richmond Community College and Anderson is a recent graduate of UNC-Greensboro with a degree in Public Health Education.
“All lives matter, but, for all lives to matter, black lives have to matter too,” Holloway said. “That’s not slighting anybody. We’re all human, we all bleed the same blood, we drink the same water, so, why can’t we get along?”
Harden said when she was approached by Holloway, her cousin, about the project, she had to sit down and think about what to do.
She also said she couldn’t have done it without Anderson’s help.
Anderson said she was more of an artist in high school, but hasn’t done much since going to college, but she’s been doing more since graduating.
The mural, painted on the side of the pool house, features silhouettes of children climbing on playground equipment, playing basketball and one preparing to jump off a diving board.
Harden said the playground of the park served as the inspiration for the mural.
“Knowing that is is an area where kids feel free to play, I wanted it to be a positive area for kids to come and feel like they do matter,” she said. “Not only that, when they walk through, I want them to see that they matter to do better with themselves, to grow.
“I wanted people to see that they’re free, that we’re all free,” she added.
Featured at the top of the mural are several African Americans who have lost their lives over the past several years in high-profile cases, the most recent: being George Floyd, whose death in the custody of Minneapolis Police officers sparked riots nationwide; Breonna Taylor, who was reportedly killed while sleeping during a no-knock raid in Kentucky; and Ahmaud Arbery, who was shot while jogging.
It also features Sandra Bland, Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown.
Bland, a Chicago resident, was arrested following a minor traffic stop in Texas in 2015 and was later found dead in her cell. Bland’s family settled a wrongful death lawsuit in 2016.
Harden said the Bland case “really hit home” with her being a Black woman and the Taylor case “devastated me, so I had to make sure she was up there.
“No one should die at the hands of law enforcement or anybody under crazy circumstances,” Blue said.
Harden said most of the work on the mural was done free-hand, aside from the portraits of the victims, for which they used a projector to trace the faces.
The pair worked on the mural in 12-hour spurts.
Both say they were honored to take part in a mural in their hometown.
“I cried for a while, Harden said. “I tried to search for what to give back to the community and when I was approached with this, I knew I had to do it.”
Holloway said the mural is going to “stand as a testament to the times that we’re going through.”
“At the end of the day,” Blue said, “it’s about pulling everybody together.”