Recording artist and visual artist Jalani Lion recently painted the incredible Black Lives Matter mural in Kingston.

Hello! Who are you? Tell us about yourself. What are you passionate about? What do you enjoy doing?

I’m Jalani Lion, a recording and visual artist from Kingston, NY.

In 2015, I painted In Memory of Adam (Jeff) McQueen, Kaireem Meeks, Jr., Dante Crump, Jonte Clark & Jeffrey D’Aguilar, the mural on Franklin Street in Kingston. McQueen, Meeks, Crump, and Clark, all Kingston residents, lost their lives in a Village of Saugerties car crash. D’Aguilar, also of Kingston, lost his life after losing control of his car in Pine Plains. This mural serves as sacred grounds to the people of Kingston. Their lives are celebrated, mourned, and have brought family and friends closer together at this mural. This was the start to the murals I’ve painted.

Jalani in front of his first mural, on Franklin Street in Kingston.

What inspires your murals and your music?

Emotions inspire my music and art. Whether it be love or heartache, happiness or depression, positivity or persevering through life’s struggles; emotion is always the inspiration behind my work.

How did the Black Lives Matter mural come about?

O+ is a non-profit organization located in the Hudson Valley that empowers communities to take control of their collective wellbeing through exchange of art, music and wellness.

Recently, O+ reached out to me about a week after the murder of George Floyd and wanted to embark on creating a mural representing anti-racism and ending police brutality. O+ already had the resources and a building to paint in mind. They supplied paint, ladders, support, and gave me complete creative freedom with this mural. The only rule was that they preferred for it not to be political. Within a week the new mural was complete. It was a collaborative effort between myself and two other artists. I handled the portraits, Dina Kravstov handled the flowers, and Mat Schulze handled the lettering. The chemistry flowed naturally and it was an enjoyable experience.

The Black Lives Matter mural on Broadway in Kingston depicts three unarmed African Americans who were killed at the hands of police — the victims’ names are Breonna Taylor and George Floyd — and by white vigilantes — the victim’s name is Ahmaud Arbery.

As tragic and heartbreaking as each of these recent deaths are, it can be said that the loss of these people caused a modern day revolution in America, and even the world. With protests, riots ,and support from all over the globe, American police are now being held accountable for their actions, racists are being exposed, and justice is being served. It is my hope that this mural can provoke thought and emotion on this country’s recent events. I hope it can serve as a symbol for positive change in the country, as well as the city of Kingston.

Most Kingston/Hudson Valley natives were supportive; however, there were a few civilians frustrated by the mural and stated “All Lives Matter.” After the Daily Freeman‘s article on the Black Lives Matter mural was released to the public, tensions rose. A lot of hate-driven and contradictory comments were made on the Daily Freeman‘s Facebook post, such as “white lives matter” or “that’s racist,” and much more. Along with this, there were counter comments enraged by the hateful comments, almost like social media protesters. Amidst these two opposing forces, there were people who commented how much they loved, adored, and appreciated the mural.

Although conflict was never the goal of this mural, awareness was; similar to the protests taking place all around the world. Change is not always easy and will not be taken lightly by all, but it is necessary for this country to move forward in a positive direction.

Looking ahead, I can’t imagine what the future holds. Less than a month ago, this was just another building on Broadway in Kingston, NY. Today, it is making news articles, touching people’s hearts, and grabbing attention and support from diverse people all over the state and country. I hold myself to high standards. Once I reach a goal, there’s always another goal waiting. I’m grateful and humbled by all the positive feedback. With all the love and support that I have received lately, I’m confident that many good things will come out of it.

Walk us through a typical day.

I work Monday through Friday at Young Lions Daycare, owned by mother, Jeanette Washington. When I’m not working at the daycare, I’m working on artwork for clientele or creating music.

How has the Hudson Valley influenced or impacted your creative work?

Opportunities given by the Hudson Valley have caused me to create pieces I may not have created had the opportunity not arose. Great feedback from said pieces have pushed me to work harder.

What do you hope to see for the Hudson Valley in the next five years?

Positive change in all areas. A positive future. Equality. Fair treatment. A great support system for the youth to enhance their future.

Where can we see more of your work?

The best place to see all my work, big and small, is my Instagram page: @iamyounglion2.

This interview has been edited.

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