Everyday thousands of vehicles zip across I-496, Lansing’s cross-town expressway. It’s convenient, safe, and easy. Like most of us, the drivers don’t give a second thought about its history or the transformation the construction had on the city and the vibrant neighborhood that was displaced when it was completed in 1970. A vast majority of the families were African American and had lived in the St. Joseph-Main Street corridor for decades. Many had relocated to Lansing to take jobs with Oldsmobile and other auto-related businesses. The neighborhood had a growing network of churches, small businesses, and social clubs that catered to African Americans.
Relocating residents to other neighborhoods was complicated by racial segregation. Real estate covenants forced most residents into apartments or small homes on the city’s Southside or on the Westside. By taking out the 700 block of each north/south cross street and creating dead-ends, neighborhoods were cut in half, creating the destruction of social connections, friendships and business relationships. African Americans hastily moving into mostly all-white neighborhoods which often resulted in white flight and discriminatory real estate practices. The efforts individuals, took to fight segregation and discrimination helped found the Westside Neighborhood Association, the city’s first neighborhood group, which is still an active force in neighborhood politics.
Located under a section of the bridge adjacent to the Grand River, The Concrete Connection Project is a memorial honoring the people and businesses who lived, worked, and played there and were impacted by the construction of I-496. This project is good for the community because it presents an opportunity to talk about diversity and inclusion, and how economic development can help or hurt established neighborhoods. There are many people still living in Lansing who remember this neighborhood. Many who had homes and grew-up during that time. By recognizing the fractured social structure, the lost businesses and broken relationships, the city gives positive affirmation to the people who endured injustices prevalent at that time. This project opens-up a discussion on the role I-496 construction had on the desegregation of Lansing, and the success the Westside neighborhood had fighting redlining and promoting open housing at a time when homes in nearby cities and suburbs were closed to minorities.
The columns under the 496 Bridge span from the river bank into the river. A few of these large, concrete columns will be reimagined this year.
My experience working on large-scale murals began in 2017 with the Under the Bridge Project which encompances four large murals on Michigan Ave. under the I-127 overpass. I have designed and painted 19 murals to date. I have worked for the Michigan Department of Transportation for over 26 years. I received my MFA from the Maryland Institute Collage of Art - Baltimore, MD; designed an International award-winning Michigan License Plate; painted 35+ portraits for the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. presidents and executive directors. I am also a two-time ArtPrize winner: 2021 Contemporary Black Artist Award and 2022 Runner-up in the Installation Category.
My art is inspired by how, as a community, we collectively view the world, our common victories, and personal struggles we all share. My subjects include simple everyday living, to solo jazz sessions, to comic book style images. I’m attracted to bright bold colors that are designed in geometric patterns mixed with curvy flowing lines within a variety of perspectives. I am always striving to learn and grow better as an artist as I continue to reach outside of my comfort zone.