Castle Drive: Black Lives Matter mural fades with no restoration plans


Zulfiqar Ahmed

Black Lives Matter was painted on Castle Drive in 2020. Currently, the words are barely visible.

DeKALB – Amidst a gigantic protest movement, three words, Black Lives Matter, were painted by students, faculty and community members onto Castle Drive in a vibrant red on Oct. 1, 2020. A year and a half later, the red paint has faded and the words are barely legible, with no sign that they will be restored. 

The Black Lives Matter mural was commissioned in honor of George Floyd’s memory and as a recognition of the protesting that had taken place in the months since then, said Dr. Joseph Flynn, Associate Director of Academic Affairs at the Center for Black Studies.

The mural was one part of an event called Art and Soul, “a social justice event for the community to come together and acknowledge the important fact that Black lives matter,” according to an Oct. 1, 2020 message to NIU students from President Lisa Freeman.

At the event, organized by the Center for Black Studies and The School of Visual and Performing Arts, multiple organizations participated in performing, including dancers, singers and the NIU Jazz combo. 

“It was joyous,” Flynn said. “It was a positive release of energy from frustration of watching the murder of George Floyd and the accumulation of events that caused people to be protesting.”

Over one hundred students turned out to support the event and to paint the mural, according to the Northern Star. One of the students was Nailah Mobley, a sophomore history major at NIU, who also believes that the mural was a response to an act of vandalism against the Center for Black Studies.

On Sept. 16, 2020, an unknown criminal spray-painted the n-word on the Center for Black Studies which prompted protests at NIU, including one on Sept. 23, 2020

The culprit was never caught and five months later, the case was closed after NIU police exhausted all possible leads, according to The Northern Star. 

While Freeman’s message about the mural made no mention of the act of vandalism, the mural was painted less than a month after the crime. A number of departments at NIU pushed for its commission including the Division of Academic Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and the Center for Black Studies, Flynn said. 

Now, nearly two years after its initial painting, the mural has deteriorated and faded due to exposure to the elements. This was actually intentional because “the paint used is water-based and non-toxic,” said Paul Kassel, dean of the College of Visual and Performing Arts, at the mural’s inauguration. “It is expected to last through the rest of the fall semester. Though the image may fade, our commitment to social justice and to a strong Huskie community will remain vivid and strong.” 

However, some would like the mural to be a more permanent structure in line with the Unity mural or the Black Lives Matter street mural in front of Trump Tower in New York City. 

Mobley described the use of water-based paint which would deteriorate as “comical.” She also said that, in hindsight, it feels odd to paint the message on the street where it’s difficult to see unless you have a drone. 

“It’s Black Lives Matter road where people drive and walk over the message,” Mobley said.

Meanwhile, Flynn does hope that restoration could be possible. However, there are currently no plans to do so. 

“I do think the idea that it’s fading is symbolic of the trend of following a movement that galvanized for several months,” Flynn said. “It keeps the message fresh in people’s minds.”