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Arts & Life

Personal Expressions Of Solidarity With Black Lives Matter Keep Popping Up Around Kansas City

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Gina Kaufmann
This sign adorns a window of an office space in midtown, at Linwood and Cherry.

From apartment windows to suburban lawns — and even industrial grain silos — we've been documenting the burst of spontaneous signage for Black Lives Matter in Kansas City.

Kansas City, Missouri, has recently announced plans for six Black Lives Matter street murals to appear in neighborhoods around the metro. The murals are being conceptualized by Black artists in partnership with arts and social justice organizations. Their visions will transform significant intersections like 18th and Vine and 63rd and Troost, giving the protest movement an official place in the cityscape.

Cities all over the country have paved the way for the initiative, turning streets into statements. The trend began when Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser ordered Black Lives Matter to be painted on city asphalt in big yellow letters, while also renaming the location Black Lives Matter Plaza. In Portland, Black Lives Matter has likewise been painted in big yellow block letters, but inside the giant letters, the stories of Portland's Black history have been written in much smaller font; those stories can be read from the ground. In Cleveland, Black artists led the way, with a project spanning several blocks in a predominantly Black neighborhood; each letter was created by a different artist, resulting in a colorful patchwork of meaning.

When Kansas City's murals go up, they'll join an ongoing transformation of the visual landscape of our neighborhoods that's been happening since the murder of George Floyd back in May (in some neighborhoods, it's been going on even longer, since the 2014 protests in Ferguson, Missouri).

Ordinary people have been reaching for markers or spray paint — whatever they have on hand — to create personalized expressions of outrage, grief and hope using any platform available. At a time when face-to-face communication is limited, the signs speak volumes.

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Gina Kaufmann
Shops, businesses, and artists' collectives near 31st and Gillham are showing visible support for Black Lives Matter.

The businesses, apartment buildings and artists' collectives near Linwood and Gillham are densely packed with signs. The messages are simple, but the sheer number creates a hard-to-ignore declaration.

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Gina Kaufmann
One story up from street level traffic, these apartment windows are near Martini Corner.

Apartment-dwellers don't have lawns, but they do have windows.

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Gina Kaufmann
This hand-written sign in an apartment window includes a drawing of a Black silhouette.

And they're using them.

Gina Kaufmann
A third floor apartment balcony is home to a Black Lives Matter flag billowing over a busy street.

They also have balconies.

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Gina Kaufmann
Hand-written messages, like this sign off Gillham Plaza, make some signage feel personal.

Suburbs typically quiet on matters of racial justice are seeing pockets of outspokenness. In Johnson County, it was not so long ago that a mural sparked controversy for depicting women of color in headscarves. Now, lawns spanning a busy thoroughfare right off of State Line Road send clear messages to people driving by.

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Gina Kaufmann
This suburban Kansas lawn has been making a resident's stance known since protests erupted over the killing of George Floyd.
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Gina Kaufmann
This lawn is located directly across the street from the previous signs featured in this story. Someone living here makes the case for Black Lives Matter as a position on human dignity and human rights, not party affiliation.

Meanwhile, some intrepid messengers with a lot of spraypaint and no fear of heights shared their particular vision from a spot where it would be visible to anyone driving southbound into downtown Kansas City via the Bond Bridge.

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Gina Kaufmann
Stealthy taggers wrote a message atop grain silos in the East Bottoms: "A world without police." The message is visible from the Bond Bridge heading southbound as you arrive in downtown Kansas City.

But some of the signage is tucked away in far less visible corners of the city. And artists' materials don't have to be fancy.

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Gina Kaufmann
An office worker has made a statement using the window of a midtown office building -- and, presumably, a copy machine.
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Gina Kaufmann
An old bedsheet now flies as a Black Lives Matter flag in midtown's Manheim Park neighborhood.
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Gina Kaufmann
This trio of apartment windows is right over the front door of a midtown apartment building on Armour Boulevard. Because of that, it almost looks like signage for the whole building, despite the makeshift lettering.
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Gina Kaufmann
This sign adorns the window at Ten Thousand Villages in downtown Overland Park, where a mural recently sparked controversy for its inclusion of women of color in headscarves.

In the coming weeks, months and years, these visual cues will keep changing. This snapshot of "now" will feel like a time capsule, a distant memory. But the growing presence of signs like these could very well inform whatever comes next. What will we see when we look back at these gestures? Will we shudder to remember the pain that inspired them? Will their promise ring hollow? Or will they symbolize the moment when everything started to change?

Editor’s note: A previously published version of this story mistakenly identified the organization responsible for the signage in the lead photo.