Artist’s depiction of Black Lives Matter Plaza in Washington, D.C., created in response to the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor in 2020 at the hands of police. (Photo by the City of District of Columbia)

By Deborah Bailey,
AFRO D.C. News Editor

Black Lives Matter – three words have galvanized millions of people from all races, religions and cultures around the planet to spontaneously spill into the streets with a demand for true freedom, equality and justice. The words are also the name of an organization founded in 2013 after the murder of Trayvon Martin and the acquittal of his killer.

Black Lives Matter Plaza – In Washington, D.C.  a street mural stretching across two blocks of 16th Street in Downtown Washington, D.C. Black Lives Matter Plaza is easily identified by the 35-foot-tall sunburst yellow-painted lettering, announcing “Black Lives Matter” (BLM) on the 16th Street pavement. 

“There are people who are craving to be heard and to be seen and to have their humanity recognized. We had that opportunity to send that message loud and clear on a very important street in our city,” D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser said in response to renaming the popular downtown area near the White House on June 4, 2020.   

In late May 2020, protestors, engaging in activism after Floyd’s death, swarmed the 16th Street area near the White House daily in Downtown D.C.  On June 1,  protestors and citizens were shocked when they were met with tear gas at the hands of federal officials. Four days later, Bowser changed the 16th Avenue landscape and announced the new plaza to the city and world.  

Reaction to the creation of Black Lives Plaza was mixed two years ago. Some residents exuberantly defended the giant street art symbol. Others, including the Black Lives Matter D.C. organization, called the gesture a distraction from engaging in “real policy change” the group said. 

Two years later – the reaction is still mixed 

The reaction to Black Lives Matter Plaza today is still mixed and as complex as the protests that erupted around the world two years ago.  It appears geographic proximity to the site, prior participation in the George Floyd protests and a comparison of Black Lives Matter – the plaza to  Black Lives Matter the movement all play a role in the relevance people attach to Black Lives Matter Plaza today.   

Carolyn Jones, from McDonough, Ga. and a busload of members from her church and community stopped near the White House on their way up to New York City last weekend. The tourists wanted to take in the sites of the George Floyd protests and came to Black Lives Matter Plaza.  

Jones was resolute in his opinion that Black Lives Matter Plaza is a critically important symbol. 

“Absolutely it does matter. Indeed it does” she insisted. Her 14-year-old granddaughter, Bryla Farland agreed that the “name still has meaning.” 

Henry Jones, who also made the trip from McDonough, said, “It (the plaza) still matters because I know why it was named and what it was named for.” 

However, D.C. resident Salvatore had more conflicting thoughts. Salvatore said he was only 15 two years ago when the protests filled the streets of D.C. He  was one of the regulars who came downtown to march multiple times.

“I marched, protested and everything,” he said.  “However, for some people, Black Lives Matter is more like a trademark. Many people were serious with the protests two years ago, but some came just for the show.”

“It meant different things to different people then,” he said. “And it does now.”

A. Daniels, also a D.C. resident, was not impressed with the city’s Black Lives matter designation then, nor is she now. 

“The Mayor has not done enough to foster equality in her own city, especially in Wards 7 and 8,” Daniels said.

Finally, a D.C. resident who wished to withhold her name from the publication felt the alleged scandal affected the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation. This foundation had an impact on everything associated with the name Black Lives Matter.

Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation, the incorporated charity associated with the Black Lives Matter movement, has come under increasing criticism since November 2020.  Then, members of 10 local Black Lives Matter Global Network chapters filed a joint statement requesting the parent organization exhibit greater transparency regarding the organization’s finances. 

In April 2021, New York Magazine reported BLM Global Network Executive Director Patrisse Cullors purchased a $6 million house in Southern California.  Cullors defended the purchase in a May 2022 interview with the Associated Press.  

The organization is currently responding to a host of financial and legal compliance issues in several states including California, Washington State and Indiana that continue to cloud its operating status.  

”I’m still thinking about what all this means,” the young woman said.

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