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A new street mural has appeared in Philadelphia. Stretching along the outer lane of the Ben Franklin Parkway near 22nd Street, right beside the James Talib-Dean encampment, large letters spell:
“I WILL BREATHE”
Painted in bright yellow on black asphalt, the message was created by approximately 20 volunteers who worked from about 8:30 to 11 p.m. Friday night, organizers told Billy Penn.
The project was led by a recently-formed activist group of the same name.
“I Will Breathe” was founded by Nasir Bell, a 22-year-old Philly native, after he was arrested in June while participating in Black Lives Matter protest in Philadelphia, according to WHYY.
The group’s stated mission is to change the narrative behind “I can’t breathe,” an anti-police brutality slogan taken from the last words of Eric Garner, one of several Black Americans known to have been killed by police officers in recent years.
“Screaming ‘I can’t breathe’ keeps us stuck in the systems that have perpetuated our struggles,” Bell explained. “So instead we say confidently ‘I will breathe,’ to show we will stand up. We will fight for better. We will uplift our communities and breathe on.”
City officials were not notified of the pending installation, according to a spokesperson, who said the words will be left to fade naturally. CBS3 first reported their appearance.
Street murals have proliferated across the nation during the current antiracism movement, from “Black Lives Matter” outside the White House in Washington, D.C., to “End Racism Now” outside the 26th District Police headquarters in Fishtown.
Some of these have been accused of being performative photo ops, but the new Parkway message was done without any prior notice or press alert.
Its location was purposefully chosen. People living at the large tent encampment on the lawn next to the mural have been in a tug of war with the city, which recently walked back a Friday morning deadline to disperse. Mayor Jim Kenney said he plans to personally enter negotiations with the camp’s leadership, which has demanded permanent housing for camp residents.
While Nasir started “I Will Breathe” as part of the BLM movement, he said the camp is directly connected to the group’s mission “because they are a widely marginalized, misunderstood and misrepresented group of people.”
His organization led two protests through the camp over the past week, he said, and hosted an outdoor party there.
Bell, whose “I Will Breathe” Facebook group has nearly 300 members, added that it’s important to remember the fight is not about any one person.
“It’s bigger than all of us,” he said. “Together we can make America great — not again, but for the first time.”