On Jan. 18, community members at George Floyd Square honored the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by raising a fist.
A little after noon, Jordan Powell Karis, with a team of artists and volunteers, hoisted a newly fabricated metal “Black Power” fist, replacing the iconic wooden fist that had defined the center of 38th St. and Chicago Ave. since June.
For Powell Karis, who created the original sculpture, the fist represents power to the people, and “it’s the people who made it happen.”
“We all take it very special to our hearts to be able to participate in this way,” said Powell Karis. “This is a protest, so this is where we as a community come together in protest. We’re protesting right now.”
In early December, the wooden fist was replaced by a wooden open hand to hold space in the Square while they created the more durable metal sculpture.
Among the artists was lead fabricator Seven Bailey, a nearby resident who teaches at Chicago Avenue Fire Arts Center. Contacted a month prior, Bailey assembled a crew of about a dozen people who rotated in and out over a one-week period. Working with Powell Karis, they templated the wooden fist to be sure this one held true to the original. They cut it, created an inner frame structure and began to build – with some crews working on the base, some on the forearm, others on the fist – then collaborating to fit it all together.
That the fist is now made of metal might surprise those who thought the original was made of metal. Even Bailey thought so, at first look.
“‘Til I got close to it, [then] I was like, ‘Oh, that’s wood,’ and I thought to myself, I hope somebody makes it out of metal,” said Bailey. “I just didn’t know I would get to make it out of metal.”
Onlookers cheered as the fist was raised. Travelers from Pensacola, Fla., who were in town for just two days, were grateful the timing coincided with their visit to George Floyd Square.
“It’s great to come down here at the time when it’s happening, you know?” said Felipe Jackson.
“Perfect timing,” Javen Jackson added.
Mecca Jackson appreciated seeing the community support, "especially on MLK Jr. Day."
For Bailey, who lives just four blocks away from 38th St. and Chicago Ave., this was an opportunity to create with the community.
“I don’t think there’s anything better that we can be doing on MLK Jr. Day, honestly. This is just proof we can keep creating, we can keep building, we can keep coming together, because that is what all of this has really shown us, is that a community is big, and it is vast,” they said. “And things like public art truly unite folks.”
Community members continue to hold space at George Floyd Square as they call for justice for the murder of George Floyd by the Minneapolis police. Their 24 demands for justice are found in Resolution 001 at bit.ly/georgefloydsquare-a.