CAMDEN, NJ — Glenn Clemons, 40, was walking to Catelli Brothers for work on this brisk Saturday morning when he suddenly encountered a dozen or so artists and volunteers on Broadway.
Turning his head to make out the lettering, he soon realized a Black Lives Matter street mural - like those across the nation following the killing of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others - was taking shape on four blocks in his very city.
“This is a great way to start my day,” Clemson, a lifelong Camden resident, told TAPinto Camden. “I haven’t seen too much injustice here compared to other parts [of the country]. All police aren’t bad but until you take care of the percentage that are trying to take us out, we’re not gonna get anywhere.”
With temperatures in the mid-40s, a dozen or so volunteers and painters arrived at the intersection of Broadway and Martin Luther King Boulevard near the transportation center around 8:30 a.m. In their hands were canisters of paint, crates with tape and chalk. To help keep warm, empanadas and coffee were supplied.
The mural is part of a larger movement by the National Stop the Violence Alliance (NSVA), which will host an unveiling and unity march next Saturday. The event has been coordinated by Sescily Coney and her mother, Dr. Stephné Coney, the organization's president and founder respectively.
Some tension was built up between the city and NSVA leading up to this morning - with officials from the mayor’s office stating that the busy thoroughfare near Cooper Hospital and a transit hub was not an ideal place for the street mural. They also referred to public safety and financial concerns.
Still, volunteers carried on uninterrupted as of midday with Camden County police officers arriving alongside NSVA volunteers, helping to barricade the road and steer traffic accordingly.
“We've been mostly doing murals on businesses that boarded up in support of Black Lives Matter and change,” said Detrick, who herself was on the ground during protests. “Yeah, it was definitely crazy. There was an explosion right next to us, the cops were corralling us...It was just interesting to see how police were treating protestors...being aggressive instead of deescalating.”
In Camden this morning, there was nothing of the sort.
“They’re right here with us, which is good to see,” said Stephné Coney. “It's a blessing for the kids that don't know that they do matter, and also, for the seniors in the civil rights movement and feel as though they haven't seen change.”
After volunteers helped outline the mural in chalk - planning for it to read “Black City of Camden Lives Matter” - the bold letters were primed and then gradually painted white. Soon, Coney said, artists and city residents will be able to fill in the white space.
Dr. Denise Jones, a pre-K teacher at Camden’s Early Childhood Development Center, paused from painting the “L” in BLACK.
“The presence of police in schools used to be very strong and then the county took over and it hasn’t been as [much of it]. I do see police officers walking the streets, which helps build relationships with the community so things are a lot better than before.”
Talking further on the issue of shootings, which have recently seen an uptick in Camden, Jones was reminded of hearing “what sounded like fireworks” coming from her window on many nights.
“We knew it was people shooting,” she said. “My own nephew was murdered in the city a while back and these sorts of constant situations desensitizes people who live here.”
“It’s important we teach them not to become used to it,” she continued.
Masks are required to attend “The National Black Lives Matter United March 2020” on Oct. 24. The peaceful march will be held at Noon, starting at Broadway and Martin Luther King Blvd. Anyone attending is encouraged to bring signs and flags.