DSM Neighborhood Transforms Message Rooted in Hate to Greeting of Love

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DES MOINES, Iowa — Graffiti targeting African Americans and supporters of the fight for racial justice received a swift makeover in a Des Moines neighborhood.

Early Monday morning, hate speech reared its head at 6th Avenue and Euclid Avenue in the historic Oak Park-Highland Park neighborhood. It used profanities to target the notion that Black lives matter.

“It’s scary. I wouldn’t want my kids to walk around and feel intimidated for who they are,” said neighborhood resident Jose Gonzalez.

“The north side is one of Des Moines’ most diverse parts of town,” said Drew Kelso, who owns The Slow Down Coffee Co. just across the street.

Instead of the message dividing the community, they rallied against it. “We knew this is not a message we want up there a second longer than is needed,” said Kelso.

Recently commissioning a mural in the neighborhood by Amy Putney Koenig, Kelso says leftover paint was repurposed almost immediately. Kelso said, “As soon as I saw that, I knew within the block we had the talent and we had the resources and the paint left over. Before I knew it, she was already down there fixing it for us.”

The artist used just five words: “Hello Love, You Are Amazing.”

“It struck something in me and I want my kids to see something positive,” said Gonzalez.

Located on one of the busier intersections in the city, transforming the graffiti was important. “This is a very visible place, and if we just let that hate message sit up there, then that is just demeaning,” Kelso said.

Another reason to stomp it out, the area is home to several elementary schools, a middle school and a high school with minority students serving as the majority. “This community doesn’t want to stand for that hate. We love them and they are amazing and should be celebrated. They don’t need to read hate messages,” said Kelso.

That transformation inspired Gonzalez, who knew just two blocks east was another message of hate against minorities. He used his own resources and poured his heart into it. Gonzalez said, “I’m just going to put up another heart. Let’s start bringing out our heart, bring that love out.”

In this historic north Des Moines community, they feel diversity doesn’t divide, it strengthens. Kelso said, “Somebody wanted to spread hate and we are all about spreading love. We want everybody to feel welcome.”

If art is not your strong suit, you can request free graffiti removal in the city through the myDSM mobile app or by calling the city directly at 515-248-6331.

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