Photographs of firefighters were used as the base for a mural named 'Community Heartbeat' by Boca Raton artist Lynn Doyal. In the mural sample above it can be seen how the face of Deputy Fire Chief Latosha Clemons was obscured. In a different panel (below), images of both Clemons and former Fire Chief Glenn Joseph were removed and replaced with images of white people. Images provided.
By Jane Smith
The lobby-window mural in Boynton Beach's newest fire station in Town Square featured made-over faces of firefighters for a few days in early June.
The mural, now removed, led to the firing of the city's public arts manager and its newly elevated fire chief deciding to leave his position.
Boynton Beach held a soft opening with city leaders and media representatives on June 3. Photos were taken of the mural and displayed on social media. Because of coronavirus restrictions the general public was not included in the opening celebration.
When community members later saw how two black fire department leaders were portrayed as white people, they began speaking out on Facebook and Twitter. They also called Boynton Beach City Manager Lori LaVerriere. The two fire department officials were retired Deputy Fire Chief Latosha Clemons and former Fire Chief Glenn Joseph.
Clemons, a Boynton Beach native, was the city’s first black woman firefighter and rose through the ranks to become deputy fire chief. She retired on March 1 after nearly 24 years of service.
Joseph came to the city in May 2016 from Boca Raton where he spent 29 years in the fire department. When he started in Boca Raton, he was the city’s first black firefighter. He retired from Boynton Beach on Nov. 29.
Boynton Beach provides fire-rescue services to Ocean Ridge and Briny Breezes.
The incident comes at a time of nationwide racial unrest. The latest outrage was sparked when George Floyd died in Minneapolis police custody on May 25.
Boynton Beach staff removed the fire station mural on June 4.
On June 5 LaVerriere made a YouTube video that was posted on the city’s Facebook page. She apologized and thanked the community for making the Facebook comments and calling her to point out the whitewashing.
On June 6 she fired the public arts manager, Debby Coles-Dobay. Later that day LaVerriere sent a statement that Matthew Petty, a 12-year veteran and the city’s fire chief since December, had agreed to leave his job “in the best interest of the city.”
After Coles-Dobay was fired, she posted on Facebook: “I was pressured to make this artwork change by the fire chief and his staff, as the city well knows. To say that I am disrespectful to our community or its members is untrue, as the community well knows.”
LaVerriere said a new mural would be placed in the new fire station by June 15.
The city’s Art Commission approved a conceptual artwork in November. The members did not see the final artwork before it was placed in the fire station’s lobby windows.