MONDAY, June 22 — Around the country, activists have been painting “BLACK LIVES MATTER” murals on the streets. With letters reaching heights of over 4 feet tall — typically painted in bold black, white or yellow — they’re impossible to miss. The murals serve as a reminder to remember George Floyd, and all of the people who were killed by police before him.
Farrin Mitchell, 34, a Lansing native and member of Lansing BLM, started painting their own Black Lives Matter mural on Capitol Avenue last week. (Mitchell uses they/them pronouns.) They saw murals popping up around the country and thought that Lansing should have its own.
”I saw Kalamazoo had plans to paint their street. I thought, well, Lansing is the state capital. We can’t be shown up, right?” said Mitchell. They thought Capitol Avenue was the perfect location to make their statement. City Hall, the Capitol building, the police station, the House and the Senate are all right there. Plus, loads of traffic pass by every day. They said that visibility is important to the BLM movement, so they picked a spot where both community members and government officials would be forced to see the message.
Mitchell had been formulating plans to paint a mural before they ever contacted BLM about it. When they finally sent a message to Lansing BLM leader Angela Waters Austin asking about painting a mural, Austin told Mitchell that a plan was already in the works. Later that day, Mitchell got started.
“They told me what they needed from me. There were a large group of allies of BLM. Whatever instructions I gave, they followed,” said Mitchell. “I took some time to come up with a vision while they ran to get paint. I came up with a sketch and went forward from there.”
Mitchell didn’t want their mural to look like all the others. In cities like Washington, D.C., and Flint, the murals are painted in white or yellow block letters. Mitchell wanted Lansing’s to stand out.
“I didn’t want plain black, white or yellow colors,” they declared. “So I brainstormed and decided to use a lot of African print and patterns in it. It adds a kind of symbolism. It represents our movement.”
Mitchell has added to the mural for a few days now. When I met up with them, they were touching up the “I” in “lives” because some people said that it looked weird. “Some people told me that the ‘I’ looks like an ‘O’,” laughed Mitchell. “So I’m gonna change that up.” They have also been checking on the mural to make sure no one defaces it.
Mitchell joined Lansing BLM about three years ago, but they’ve been an artist basically their whole life. In preschool, they neglected nap time. Instead, Mitchell wanted to do art while their classmates slept.
“One day, I got the nerve to ask if I could sit there and color,” they explained. “I would color quietly, and they’d be in awe of how I could already stay in between the lines.”
From preschool forward, Mitchell never stopped creating. They have worked with digital media, graphic design, photography. “I work with mixed media. Anything I can find,” they said.
“Spray paint is a bit more fun and flexible, though. It’s one of my favorite mediums.”
Besides creating art, Mitchell works as a basketball coach and trainer. They also have a pro-black brand called Look What Farrin Did, which they said is designed to “empower and inspire people of color.”
In their free time, they speak with at-risk youth in the community. Mitchell graduated from Everett High School and has lived in Lansing since birth. Their connection to the community is strong.
Mitchell said that their many jobs and hobbies keep them feeling happy and fulfilled. In a time where police brutality against Black people is at the forefront of people’s minds and plastered all over the news, they need all the happiness and fulfillment they can get. They said this moment makes them feel two, almost paradoxical emotions.
Firstly, Mitchell said that the Black community seems inspired right now.
“A lot of us are feeling inspired to really move and to try to exist in our individual spaces in a way that is powerful, unapologetic. Even just to stand our ground, to be heard and acknowledged,” they explained.
But, along with that, Mitchell acknowledged that the Black community is in great pain right now. “I would also say that a lot of us are really angry. It’s like, I told you so. We’ve been screaming and shouting about this since the day Trayvon Martin was killed for carrying Skittles,” they said.
Mitchell has seen both hope and rage expressed on the streets. They have been out to a few protests since the death of George Floyd. They said that they feel optimistic when they see other people — specifically, non-Black people — marching along with them, fighting for the same cause.
“One day, we marched down to MLK, and I never felt so safe,” said Mitchell. “I wasn’t just surrounded by my own people. There were so many of our white allies there with us. Latinos and Latinas were there as well. Indigenous people. I felt safe, I felt heard. I really felt seen.”
Mitchell said that they hope the mural can act as a call-to-action for people not involved in the struggle. They said that anything helps. Posting on social media, bringing food and water to protests, helping out as a medic, marching in the street. Mitchell specifically called for more white people to get out on the streets and fight for Black Lives Matter.
“Call it out when you see it,” they said. “Because we’ve been doing that. It can be even more powerful when non people of color do that.”