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La Jollans stage ‘chalk-in’ on bike path in support of Black Lives Matter

People set up on the La Jolla Bike Path on Labor Day to make chalk art in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.
(Stephen Simpson)

Community members turned out to the La Jolla Bike Path on Labor Day to make chalk art in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.

“We wanted to take a stand and call out how we feel about police and vigilante violence against Black Americans,” said Ruth Leivers, a La Jolla resident and mother of three.

About 40 people set up on the bike path near Via del Norte. It was the second chalk-in event organized by Leivers. The first was held July 4. A few days later, Leivers saw city workers cleaning the bike path; they told her that neighbors had reported the chalk art as “offensive graffiti,” she said.

Leivers said she was motivated by a letter to the editor in the La Jolla Light about a man shouting and tearing down a 12-year-old’s artwork promoting diversity and BLM, among other messages.

“I felt we who are opposed to racism should do something and be seen in our own community,” said Leivers, a former teacher. “I am a biracial woman. I have three children, ages 12 to 17. What happens to Black men, women, girls and boys matters to me. But it should matter to everyone.”

The Black Lives Matter movement grew after the killings of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd. Hundreds participated in a June 12 march in La Jolla.

Participants in a Labor Day chalk-in draw on the La Jolla Bike Path in a show of support for the Black Lives Matter movement.
Participants in a Labor Day chalk-in draw messages and images on the La Jolla Bike Path in a show of support for the Black Lives Matter movement.
(Stephen Simpson)

Participants in the Labor Day chalk-in wore masks amid the coronavirus pandemic as they gathered at a table decorated with a red-white-and-blue tablecloth. An information board listed books that discuss racism and anti-racism, including “Stamped From the Beginning” by Ibram X. Kendi and his children’s version, “Stamped: Racism, Antiracism and You.”

“Black lives matter” was written in large block letters; there were rainbows and heart drawings, and even a dragon. One resident drew a wave with the words “Ride the wave to equality.” Another wrote, “All lives won’t matter until Black lives matter.”

Some passersby joined in and added their own art to the asphalt canvas. Others who didn’t agree with the message or the method accused the group of defacing the neighborhood or condoning the violence that has erupted at some Black Lives Matter protests elsewhere. One man described the “big beautiful yachts” at a boat rally supporting President Trump that he had attended.

“We tried to make clear that our peaceful protest was not about the present White House administration but about the violence that all Americans are seeing perpetrated on the bodies of Black men and women, girls and boys,” Leivers said. ”In La Jolla, we are using art to start an important conversation.”

People contribute chalk art during a community Labor Day event to support the Black Lives Matter movement.
(Stephen Simpson)

Dr. Sierra Washington, an associate clinical professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences at UC San Diego, attended the event and contributed to the chalk drawing.

“I think it is important for us to engage in our community about the movement for Black lives and stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters who are being brutally murdered by law enforcement officers,” Washington said. ”No community is immune to this type of systemic racism, not even La Jolla.”

“We live here, too,” said Washington, who is Black. “I have a 4-year-old son and I worry about when he will go from being considered the cutest kid in the neighborhood to being racially profiled as a public enemy. I don’t think my son will be safe in any neighborhood until we address the excessive violence used against Black people in America. I am thankful for small community events like the chalk painting on the bike path that bring us together to be able to dialogue in our own community, because change begins with a conversation.”

Bill Hagey, who grew up in La Jolla, agreed that residents need to show their support for racial justice. “It was fun to meet and see neighbors and express our concern for everyone through sidewalk art,” he said.

La Jolla resident April Winograd, who has mentored young people in philanthropy and social outreach, said, “This is such a great way to show that our values gain meaning through our actions, and sometimes the most important thing that we can do is to speak up and say, ‘That’s not right.’“

Sharon L. Jones is a former education reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune. She has lived in La Jolla for 20 years.