Florida public art mural replaced image of pioneering black female firefighter with a white face
BOYNTON BEACH - A public art project that was unveiled this month and based on photographs replaced the image of the city’s first and only black female firefighter and deputy chief with the image of a white person.
Latosha Clemons, who is Boynton-born and -raised, climbed and led the city department’s ranks for about 24 years before retiring March 1 from her position as deputy fire chief.
“I’m hurt. I’m disappointed. I’m outraged,” Clemons said Friday. “It’s been my heart and soul and my lifeblood to serve in the community where I grew up ... this is beyond disrespect and I basically want to know why it happened.”
A day after the city unveiled the art project, officials removed it. It is unclear who made the decision to change the image.
City Manager Lori LaVerriere wrote Thursday that “inappropriate” changes were made to the approved artwork plan and that the city will install new art by June 15. She said Friday the changes “included modifying the images in the installation so that the individuals would not be specifically identifiable. It went way too far.”
The face of Glenn Joseph, former fire chief, also was replaced in the art project.
Javaris “Big Jay” Russ, a resident and community activist, said Thursday he “almost threw up” when he saw that Clemons was exchanged in the project.
“That’s like a blow to everything that we stand for,” Russ said. “You could just erase my everything? My essence?”
The Rev. Rae Whitely said Thursday what needs to be addressed includes how to make “whole” both Clemons and the community.
“You have little black girls that walk past, and go to school, they would have had the opportunity to walk past and see someone who resembles them,” Whitely said. “I just have a lot of questions, you know, I don’t want to jump to conclusions.”
Whitely said he is upset and so did resident Lesha Roundtree, who noted Clemons “made history” in Boynton and that “there’s really no excuse” for what happened.
“She’s considered a hometown hero,” Roundtree said. “She probably needs a plaque on a building.”
Clemons said she stands with the community and that their demands are hers.
“There needs to be accountability,” she said. “Who and why.”
This story originally published to palmbeachpost.com, and was shared to other Florida newspapers in the USA TODAY Network - Florida.