A mural bearing the messages “Black Lives Matter” and “Stop the Killing” was painted on the wall in front of Pueblo Market in Long Bay in a show of solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement in the states, with the heavy hearts of a community that has lost so many Black lives due to gun violence.
Three sisters, Cheryl Sadler-Willie, Patricia Sadler and Shirley Sadler, were discussing one night the problems and fears that young Virgin Islands Black males have as they make the transition to the mainland United States. One of the most prevalent concerns for that group, they said, was the problems Black males have with police. This conversation happened just after the murders of cousins Rique and Aaron Ashby.
While the sisters wanted to acknowledge the nationwide movement, they also felt the need to represent the reality of the deaths of too many young Black males in the local community.
As of Friday night, there have been 31 homicides so far this year. To put that in perspective, the week that ended Sunday, Aug 2, was the 31st week of 2020. The Source’s full homicide list for 2020 is here.
The sisters have seen the murals created on the mainland and wanted to do something like that in the U.S. Virgin Islands. They wanted to create the mural in a way that not only represented the plight of the Virgin Islanders who have moved to the mainland but also to the lives being lost in the community due to gun violence.
“We decided to send a message to the public,” Sadler-Willie said. “While we in the Virgin Islands don’t have a police force that is white – our police force resembles us – we really don’t have incidents of excessive force being used where people are losing their lives. What we do have is the black-on-black crime that is prevalent in our community. Young people opting to solve their problems using a gun or lethal force.”
Sadler-Willie said she and her sisters want the mural to support stateside Blacks in their struggle, but that’s only the start.
“We realize that they too can be subject to the police brutality that’s there, but what we also want the wall to be meaningful in the Virgin Islands as far as a deterrent to make people think about committing crime,” she said.
After they decided to do the mural, they reached out to V.I. Public Works Commissioner Nelson Petty Jr., who approved the project. The paint was donated by a local contractor and other parts of the project were financed by senatorial candidate Shirley Sadler.
Artist Liston Fahie, known by members of the community as “Worm,” painted the mural. The wall took two long days to paint – the first day they left at 9 p.m. and the second day after 10. Sadler-Wille said she was grateful for Fahie’s enthusiasm and commitment to the project.
While they were painting, people driving by honked their horns in support and left donations. Sadler-Wille thinks that the show of support from all segments of the community means they will embrace the message behind it.
When asked what people should think about when they see the mural, Sadler-Wille said, “People should think about taking the message to their homes, their neighborhoods, their friends, their friend’s friends.”
“It’s a wall that preaches unity, it stands for togetherness, it stands for love, it stands for everyone in this community,” she said.