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A new mural has gone up in West St. Paul supporting Black Lives Matter and the first Black candidate to run for office in West St. Paul. The mural is on a private fence at the corner of Smith and Butler owned by Ryan Weyandt and his husband Michael Hainlin.
“We feel that it’s our responsibility to lend voice and further legitimacy to our Black and brown brothers and sister who are literally being murdered in broad daylight, in the middle of the street, in the center of the busiest cities, across America,” Weyandt said.
The mural was created by a group of local volunteers. The mother-daughter team of Debra and Marisa Fuglestad created the mural featuring mayoral candidate Kimetha “KaeJae” Johnson. Muralist Guillermo Valadez created the Black Lives Matter work with some local help.
Why a Mural?
It’s not the first message shared on their fence. At the height of the shutdown, they put up an encouraging thank you to essential workers.
But Weyandt and Hainlin felt compelled to share a new message after their political signs for Johnson were stolen out of their yard.
“This is where I’d like to say something witty like ‘if he needs the signs that bad,'” Weyandt said, referring to security video of a man stealing the signs. “But it’s more than that, really. It’s the fact that this individual is stealing messaging he doesn’t agree with (most non-political signs being messaging of hope) in an attempt to mute a voice he doesn’t like and an opinion he doesn’t agree with, only to ensure the bubble he lives in is preserved.”
“That mentality needs to die,” Weyand continues. “It’s the exact mentality that has replaced political and civil discourse with fake news, nonsensical mockery, and name-calling—it’s fear.
Unfortunately for him, it’s hard to steal a fence stationed in concrete.”
Black Lives Matter
They wanted to make something that caused people to stop and reflect. Using their own privilege to spotlight often marginalized voices felt like a good fit.
“We have Black and brown neighbors who are afraid of walking in these neighborhoods at night, or driving after dark,” Weyandt said. “For those who recall how it felt to be locked down in your homes under curfew, scared and anxious during the civil unrest that plagued the Cities after George Floyd was lynched, imagine feeling that anxiety and paranoid innocence every day of your life. Imagine just having to cross the threshold of your doorstep and being overwhelmed with those emotions.”
Sometimes it’s hard to comprehend the Black experience in America.
“The ACLU put out a report that Philando Castile had been pulled over something like 50 times without having anything more than a misdemeanor or traffic violation,” Weyandt continued. “The same report states that Black Americans are five times more likely to be pulled over by police than white. It’s not that nobody else’s lives matter; it’s that Black lives are being disproportionately ended for no reason right now in America, regularly. When 32% of the victims of lethal force by police in this country are disproportionately Black, with an overall fatality rate 2.8 times higher than whites, the least I can do is paint a fence.”
The project is also more than a Black Lives Matter mural. The first half of the project to go up was a campaign sign supporting Johnson’s mayoral run.
Weyandt recalls a conversation shortly after moving in where a neighbor described West St. Paul government as “a good old boys’ club” and “even the women who have served have felt marginalized.”
“While I deeply respect the mayor [Dave Napier] and his service to the community,” Weyandt said, “I am also far too aware that humans tend to only relate to personal experiences, those we’ve involved ourselves in, or those which we choose to learn about and develop an understanding of.”
The community isn’t always adequately represented and more and more residents are suffering the effects of gentrification. With that in mind, Weyandt sees the value of a candidate like Johnson who understands these experiences firsthand.
“She has the audacity to run in an election where folks openly threaten her, steal and deface her campaign propaganda, dismiss her and call her names, and she still goes around door-knocking, with her purple mask hiding a contagious smile, trying to get to know the residents of this city and encourage them to vote and be involved in their local elections,” Weyandt said.
Since it is a political sign, the Johnson mural will come down after election day as required by state law.
Weyandt and Hainlin have lived in West St. Paul since 2017. Weyandt runs a national nonprofit
professional association for LGBTQ+ real estate professionals.
And if the mural raises some eyebrows?
“Hopefully folks can take five seconds to reflect on why they’re raising their eyebrows,” Weyandt said. “Integrity is defined by the actions we take and things we say when no one is around.”
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