Ricky Singh uses art to uplift Beatties Ford community

Singh, a co-founder of the Beatties Ford Strong movement, says public art has the power to uplift.
Ricky Singh

“It really started with a mural,” said Ricky Singh on the birth of the Beatties Ford Strong movement.

Following a mass shooting last summer that resulted in four deaths and several injuries, artists and community leaders banded together to uplift the community through public artwork, dubbing it “Beatties Ford Strong.”

Singh, a muralist and one of the founders of the movement, says he had just finished the Black Lives Matter painting uptown when the calamity happened, pricking something inside of him.

After all, he knew one the of the victims and had been a part of the Beatties Ford corridor for a decade.

“Something came over me…I knew we had to do something,” he said. “I didn’t want a memorial mural. I wanted something that was going to give a sense of pride.”

With the idea to honor those who were recently lost and who had historically been lost, the group set out to erect murals along the corridor one wall at a time.

From the Beatties Ford Strong and Sankofa mural on Catherine Simmons Avenue to the West End Seafood Market, Singh says a year later the group has fulfilled it mission — to support and provoke change.

Now, they’re planning their next act. And even with some of their art — notably the Sankofa mural — being painted over, Singh remains optimistic that their efforts have “started something” along the corridor.

In an interview with QCity Metro on Thursday, Singh talked about the impact of the Beatties Ford Strong movement, and its sixth and latest mural on Lulia Market, which he says represents the past, present and future of the Historic West End.

Q. What was the process for the mural on Lulia’s Market to come to life?

Ricky Singh: This was concocted 11 months ago, so it was awhile. From when we got the final piece of funding to fruition it was probably less than a week. We move pretty quickly, but again we had the designs done already, and I think everybody knew that things would come together eventually.

Q. What groups were a part of this mural? I saw CLTBLK Owned on the mural. Anyone else?

Singh: A few organizations were a part of this. There’s Lulia Market, obviously. The landlord has an interesting story. He’s a graduate of West Charlotte. He moved to this country from Eritrea and was a senior at West Charlotte. So it’s kind of cool to see him come back to the community with this market. I believe he has two in the area. This one is named after his daughter, whose name is Lulia.

CLTBLK Owned was definitely a part of it. Charlotte is Creative was apart of it as well in terms of being able to fiscally support it. The Block, which is run by HueHouse; Digital Charlotte; Community Dream Builders, quite a few. I think it kind of conceptualizes the idea that it does take a village. I think it was through the partnership with those five or six organizations this was able to come about. It’s probably one of the only murals on the West Side that is predominantly done by females of color. It’s been great to see families and people taking lots of photos and celebrating that space.

Q. From your perspective, why are things like murals, especially in areas like the West End, important? What is the impact on the community?

Singh: I think what art does is…its a five sense experience and it affects the way people feel. That’s why we intentionally use bright colors and things because there’s research behind it. If you go to my school (Charlotte Lab School) you’ll see that too. All the furniture is like crazy colors. It tells the brain something different. It also brings a sense of joy and happiness to an area that’s already like that, but maybe the visual environment doesn’t portray it.

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So I think when the Beatties Ford Strong movement started, it was really about, how do we get those visuals and impact on the community like NoDa, South End and those other areas that are really bursting at the seams. I’ll say the same thing I said almost a year ago to the date. We’re just getting started. By next month we would have fulfilled all of what we said we’re going to do and now we’re getting ready to think about what does the next year look like.

Q. I was just recently informed that a new building owner has started painting over the Sankofa mural. Obviously when businesses change hands things like that can happen, but how does that make you feel? What is that like seeing it be painted over?

Singh: I found out today. I was able to stop by. I’m not going to lie; it was tough to see. I was just talking to my wife and kids about this because…I actually stared that mural on Thanksgiving with my two younger ones. I remember us teaching them how to prime a wall. On that mural I worked with Makayla Binter, and we had the community paint it. It was us in direction, but you had older folks, 70 to 80 year-old people, who had never used a can of spray paint, painting these mosaic tiles to fill the Sankofa bird. The purpose of that mural was around really marking this as sacred ground. I think since we’ve painted that mural there, there hasn’t been an event that has been negative in nature. I’m not saying that art can protect people, but something changed.

This article was published as part of our West End Journalism Project, which is funded by a grant by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

Sarafina Wright
Sarafina covers Historic West End under a grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. She earned a journalism degree from Howard University. Email news tips to sarafinawright@qcitymetro.com or connect with her on Twitter and Instagram @sarafinasaid.

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