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Parks board member appears at new La Jolla chalk drawings to apologize for comments about Black Lives Matter

La Jolla Parks & Beaches board member Mary Ellen Morgan (right) appears at an Oct. 31 "ChalkUp" event.
La Jolla Parks & Beaches board member Mary Ellen Morgan (right) apologized at an Oct. 31 “ChalkUp” event for controversial comments she had made about earlier chalk drawings and the Black Lives Matter movement. Participants wore face masks because of the coronavirus pandemic.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

A gathering of area residents bearing chalk to draw messages on the La Jolla Bike Path and at Starkey Mini Park on Draper Avenue the morning of Oct. 31 drew a surprise appearance by a La Jolla Parks & Beaches board member who recently generated controversy with her statements opposing such events.

Mary Ellen Morgan apologized and called the latest drawings “beautiful.”

The “ChalkUp,” the latest in a series of chalk drawing events on the bike path in support of the Black Lives Matter movement since July, was put together by Lisa Attinasi more than a month ago “as an empowering way to express ideas, feelings and thoughts,” she said.

“I just feel like right now is a good time to keep this energy going,” Attinasi said. “This ChalkUp is an expression using art, and it’s not a phase, it’s not trendy. Our community needs to have a voice right now regarding these issues.”

Two days after the latest “ChalkUp” in La Jolla in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, resident Lisa Attinasi, who organized the Oct. 31 event, was notified by a fellow ChalkUp participant Nov. 2 that some of the chalk had been washed away at the bottom of the Starkey Mini Park stairs on Draper Avenue.

She said the event, attended by about 30 people, was not in response to the Sept. 28 Parks & Beaches meeting in which Morgan and board colleague Marie Hunrichs said the chalk drawings, which they viewed as political expression, should not be in public places and made statements about Black Lives Matter that some community members called “hateful” and “hurtful.”

LJP&B dedicated more than an hour of its Oct. 26 meeting to discussing how to proceed after hearing from eight members of the public who wanted Morgan and Hunrichs removed, arguing that their statements violated the board’s bylaws prohibiting “discrimination.”

The board ultimately decided to form a working group to draft a code of conduct, and to seek the opinion of the San Diego city attorney’s office on whether a violation of the bylaws had occurred.

Following some controversial statements by two of its members about recent chalk writings on the Fay Avenue Bike Path in support of the Black Lives Matter movement — and the city’s decision not to remove them — the La Jolla Parks & Beaches advisory group dedicated more than an hour of its Oct. 26 meeting to discussing how to proceed.

Morgan and Hunrichs also spoke at the Oct. 26 meeting.

“I have no problem with the Black Lives Matter movement or messages,” Morgan said. “I’m sorry if I offended people, but I am trying to, in my opinion, ... keep La Jolla clean, beautiful and non-confrontational. It was my own opinion and does not reflect La Jolla Parks & Beaches.”

Hunrichs said she “didn’t mean to offend anyone ... [but I spoke out because] it’s not the message, it’s where it was put. … I believe in the sentiment that Black people matter.”

Halfway through the Oct. 31 ChalkUp, Morgan arrived and began to address a small group of participants.

“My comment was based upon thinking maybe the public would not appreciate seeing political messages on the sidewalk,” she said. “That’s all I meant.”

LJP&B board member Jane Reldan asked what Morgan thought of the chalk messages currently on the bike path.

“I think they’re beautiful,” Morgan said. “If I offended anyone, I am very sorry. I hope you accept my apology.”

Elizabeth Tobias said “it takes tremendous courage to come today, to have this conversation, to sit in front of all of us and to share authentically from your heart. This is a watershed moment, a learning moment, and we’re all growing from this. As White La Jollans, we are just beginning to understand. We’re coming together to support diverse La Jolla. This change takes courage.”

Morgan said, “This was an accident, and I hope you can forgive me.”

Ruth Leivers, who organized two previous ChalkUp events, stepped forward and said, “I’d like to offer you some chalk.”

Caleb Coy thanked Morgan for coming out to see how “peaceful and unifying and positive this all is. We are rooted in conversation, not confrontation.”

Morgan then asked the group if Black Lives Matter is political.

“Black Lives Matter is the largest social movement of our time,” Leivers said. “I don’t think of it as political, I think of it as a social movement. It’s unequivocally ‘Black lives matter,’ period.”

Coy said confusion occurs as “there are certain politicians who … vote in line with the social movement, which is then perceived as politics. [The movement] is people who want love and justice. It’s not meant to be aggressive or violent.”

A few people told Morgan that her apology was appreciated but asked that the conversation continue at the next LJP&B meeting.

Morgan said it would.

“Thank you,” Leivers said. “Let’s do some chalk.”

Event participant Jon Wiggins later told the La Jolla Light that he is concerned that the LJP&B board is “going to try to move forward with this without actually doing any internal work themselves. It feels like they’re going to try to put this right back to business as usual.”

Participant Carla Diot said she hopes the board members “are really taking it seriously and sitting with it.”

The latest "ChalkUp" event took place Oct. 31 at Starkey Mini Park on Draper Avenue and on the La Jolla Bike Path.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

Julie Christian said “it’s time that we get this under control. We’ve made progress [with racial justice], but we are at a standstill. We with White privilege have to make the change.”

Ana Villela, 13, added several drawings to the La Jolla Bike Path with friends.
Ana Villela, 13, added several drawings to the La Jolla Bike Path with friends.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

Dawn Villela went to the ChalkUp at the request of her 13-year-old daughter, Ana. “She’s been wanting to get involved,” Villela said. “It’s a great way for this age group to have an outlet to express how they feel.”

“We need a change,” Ana said. “Obviously, there are a lot of problems we have right now that need to be solved. Just by doing this, it brings awareness to the issues.”

Messages drawn by the participants included BLM’s initials, along with quotes from Martin Luther King Jr. and sayings such as “There’s nothing complicated about equality.”

Michael Campos wrote a quote from Ellen Browning Scripps from the dedication of the La Jolla Recreation Center in 1915 that stipulated the center was to be “a facility open to all, young and old, rich and poor, and be a gathering place for everyone, regardless of race or creed, where they can express their views.”

“It’s a timely quote 105 years later,” Campos said.

Attinasi said she sees the issue “as a huge teachable moment, and I think we really do have to honor what our words mean and how they are being perceived, whether it’s in a private conversation or a public conversation.”

“This has been a really tough year for everyone,” Attinasi added. “I want this ChalkUp event to be about how our community comes together in peace and unity.” ◆