words by Noor Hindi, photos by Chris Harvey

Artists Nichole Epps, April Couch, Alexandria Couch, and Gyasi Jones are taking the lead on painting a “Black Lives Matter” street mural on Howard Street between North and Cuyahoga Streets. 

The mural, to be finished Friday, was commissioned by Akron City Councilmember Tara Samples, who says the mural is about “making sure people understand what we’ve been through for 401 years.” 

Though the idea for the mural came before Na’Kia Crawford’s murder on Howard Street on June 14, carrying out the mural feels timely, says Samples. 

As artists and volunteers worked on completing the mural, the atmosphere felt heavy as they grieved the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis and Na’Kia Crawford and Brian Powers in Akron.

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“I just want to have a day where I don’t worry, where I don’t cry just because my husband and my children have left home,” April Couch says. “The first couple weeks I couldn’t do anything. I felt like I was paralyzed. I felt like I was in mourning. And I was. I was grieving the life that was lost. I was grieving for George Floyd’s family. I was grieving the innocence of my children that’s been taken away.”

Editor’s note: April Couch is a founding member of The Devil Strip’s Board of Trustees and a co-owner of the magazine. Reporter Noor Hindi covered this story independently and Couch did not see this story before publication.

Samples says the idea for the mural was ignited after she saw DC’s Black Lives Matter mural. She also says Howard Street is an ideal location for it because it honors Howard Street’s rich history of being the place “where Black musicians met” in the early 1900s. 

Artist Nichole Epps says the last four weeks have been “draining,” but she’s excited to be in conversation and community with other Black artists. 

“Honestly, we are all in a mourning process. We’re mourning a lot of things. And being able to just be around and exchange energy with other people in itself is just healing. We’re having conversations without using words. We know why we’re all here, and I think we need to allow ourselves to hurt. I think we need to allow ourselves to say ‘it’s OK to not be OK.’”

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Beyond the mural, artists are advocating for deeper conversations about race, including conversations that channel rage and disappointment into policy changes that make Akron more equitable. 

“I hope it really acts as a catalyst to start conversations for those who are on either side of the issues,” says Epps. “I hope it encourages that hard dialogue. I’m hoping people stay involved on the long term, to do more, to educate themselves and hold people in positions of power accountable at all costs.”

Noor Hindi is The Devil Strip’s equity and inclusion reporter. Email her at noor@thedevilstrip.com

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