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Black History Month 2020: Black artist creates billboards across Grand Rapids

Posted at 9:55 PM, Feb 19, 2020
and last updated 2020-02-19 23:24:46-05

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Each year, Black History Month is an opportunity to celebrate those who are advocating for equality in communities and to honor their contributions to society.

After noticing some racial division among Grand Rapids residents, city native Adeshola Makinde is using art to inspire a new narrative.

"I kind of wanted to highlight black figures that I felt aren't highlighted in school, and during Black History Month in general. I feel like it's usually a more safe black figure," said Makinde.

Makinde partnered with Grand Rapids to create nine billboards across the downtown area showcasing profound quotes from the likes of James Baldwin, Angela Davis, Malcolm X, Coretta Scott King, Shirley Chisholm and more.

"I think when black people go into those spaces, they sometimes don't feel seen, so I think them being on Ionia and various parts of downtown was really huge for me," said Makinde.

One billboard in particular uniquely tackles this issue, with a specific message.

"I chose for the Coretta Scott King one to be on Division because the quote is talking about community, not forgetting about the less fortunate, and the community is reflected by how we treat those people," said Makinde. "And I think that in times like this it's important for us to remember something like that."

While most recognize the impact of figures like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and global figures like Nelson Mandela, Makinde wanted to give people a closer look at quotes that aren't typically recognized.

"Black History Month has kind of gotten a wrap, for like being so, you kind of expect the same things for it every year, and a goal in my work is to kind of reshape our narrative as black people, and I kind of felt like this was a good start into that kind of work, and I hope to do this kind of stuff all over," said Makinde.

Using their exact words was intentional. Makinde's work emphasizes that black people are layered individuals, and there is more than one way to be effective.

Now, with much support from the community, Makinde is one step closer to his goal.

"To share knowledge and, the quotes kind of vary from being inspirational to a call to action," said Makinde. "I think the goal for it for me is to like, to spark a mind to like see one of the quotes and maybe go look up a book by the person, or look into what they did, videos and what not."