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After vandalism, ‘Black Lives Matter’ sign rededicated

Musician Toussaint Liberator (center) addressed the crowd at the rededication of the “Black Lives Matter” banner at the First Baptist Church in Jamaica Plain on Sunday.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

Vandals have twice ripped down the "Black Lives Matter" banner from outside the First Baptist Church in Jamaica Plain. But church leaders, members, and community supporters refuse to be silenced.

About 60 people gathered Sunday afternoon as the Rev. Ashlee Wiest-Laird unveiled a new banner at a rededication service, pledging to hold more events aimed at drawing awareness to social inequities.

"In 1842 this church sent a letter to the Baptist Mission Society saying slavery was unacceptable," declared Wiest-Laird, the church's pastor, "because black lives mattered then and black lives matter now."

The Jamaica Plain event marked the second time within a week that a "Black Lives Matter" sign had to be replaced in the Greater Boston area. The First Parish Unitarian Universalist church in Arlington replaced its "Black Lives Matter" banner on Tuesday evening, after it was tagged with spray paint.

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"Black Lives Matter" has become the rallying cry of a national grass-roots movement sparked in response to the deaths of several unarmed black people during confrontations with police.

The banner at the First Baptist Church also reads: "Of course all lives matter . . . God loves each and everyone . . . however, given the continuing injustice and violence in our society that is disproportionately faced by people of color we must proclaim Black Lives Matter."

The church's first banner, erected this summer, was ripped down in September and left in a trash can. It was put back up, only to disappear last month.

The new banner dedicated Sunday hangs about 30 feet off the ground, above the church entranceway.

"We wanted to make it harder for people to reach," Wiest-Laird said jokingly.

“We wanted to make it harder for people to reach,” Wiest-Laird joked about the banner.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

Other speakers at the dedication called the recent vandalism incidents an unfortunate trend, but said it was hardly surprising considering the prevalence of racism in America.

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"People like me are made to feel like we're crazy all the time," said Toussaint Liberator, a member of First Baptist Church and a speaker at the dedication.

Liberator, a musician, led the crowd in a song before imploring them to always take a stand for racial equity.

"You can't be afraid to offend someone when people are dying," Liberator said.

Betsaida Gutierrez, a longtime community activist in Jamaica Plain, said she fully supported the church's decision to replace the banner.

"Since this church was established it has been serving the community," Gutierrez said. "The black community has had to suffer years of being put down."

The dedication ceremony was also attended by Boston at-large City Councilor Ayanna Pressley.

Pressley, who is up for re-election Tuesday, spoke to the crowd about her religious faith before saying she forgave the vandals.

"This is not a movement to be tolerated, it is to be understood," Pressley said, comparing "Black Lives Matter" to previous American social justice efforts such as the women's suffrage and civil rights movements.

Pressley said "Black Lives Matter" applies to more than just black people, embracing "anyone who has been disenfranchised or marginalized or who feels invisible or unseen."

Moments after she spoke, a bicyclist traveling north on Centre Street began to heckle the group, just as Wiest-Laird unveiled the new banner.

"Black Lives Matter!" the group defiantly chanted in response.

The crowd at the rededication ceremony was a diverse representation of Jamaica Plain's progressive circles, and covered almost all ages, genders, and races.

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Yet Nathan McKay, an 11-year-old boy who came with his mother, was the unquestioned star of the proceedings. After the rededication ceremony was over, McKay spotted a piece of white paper flapping in a bushy hedge near the side of the church.

McKay told his mother, and upon further inspection, they realized it was the original vandalized "Black Lives Matter" sign, which everyone thought was gone for good.

Security cameras appeared to show the vandals walking off with the sign, but they apparently either stuffed it in the bushes or returned the damaged sign at a later date, Wiest-Laird said.

Either way, church members shared a hearty laugh before returning the blighted sign to its original spot, near the corner of Myrtle and Centre streets.

Vandals wanted the First Baptist Church to take down its "Black Lives Matter" banner. Now it has two.

Church kitchen coordinator Pamela Cannon (center) enlisted Rev. Ashlee Wiest-Laird (left) and church moderator Linda Karpeichik to dance with her to “This Little Light of Mine” on Sunday.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

Astead W. Herndon can be reached at astead.herndon@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @AsteadWH