Message in a mural

CARL RUSSO/staff photo.Michael Bastien, left, and Jason Reyes, both 24, of Lawrence, are planning to paint a "Black Lives Matter" mural on Lawrence Street in Lawrence.

LAWRENCE — In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic last summer, Jason Reyes and Michael Bastien formed a nonprofit they call Take Action and Inspire. Now, they're hoping to do just that in the city they call home — in a very public way.

Both 24, longtime Lawrence residents Reyes and Bastien say they were struck by the May death of George Floyd — a Black man who died at the hands of Minneapolis police officers. Four of the officers involved in Floyd's death are now facing criminal charges, including a murder charge for former officer Derek Chauvin. 

Reyes said he watched as locals expected violence to take place in Lawrence in response to Floyd's death — but the city remained calm. 

"Everyone talked about how there would be looting and stuff in Lawrence. Nothing happened. Look what we're going to do now: We're going to do something special, stand up for something," Reyes said. 

What they're doing now has involved a lot of planning in a relatively short period of time. Since July, the men have been preparing to paint a "Black Lives Matter" mural in yellow lettering across Lawrence Street. The project will be completed on Sunday, Oct. 25, Bastien said.

"This mural will be a representation of equality no matter what your ethnic background is," Reyes explained. "I want to make sure that everybody in and outside of our community knows where Lawrence stands in these dire times." 

The mural will be painted adjacent to Campagnone Common. According to Reyes, the location was chosen for its history and cultural connection to the city.

"It's where the Bread and Roses strike happened in 1912," Reyes said. "The YMCA is here, where we were 5- and 6-years-old. There are also schools in the area. There's a lot of culture here."

The project is completely crowdfunded and Reyes and Bastien must hire their own detail officers during the painting and take care of street sweeping as part of the agreement made with the city. Through a GoFundMe page, the men have raised $3,625 over the last two weeks. Donations are accepted by visiting gofundme.com and searching "Take Action and Inspire." They hope to raise $10,000.

A senior graphic design student at UMass Lowell, Reyes said he worked the phones and took plenty of Zoom meetings to make sure the right people knew about the mural.

"I was talking with my former high school art teacher, Eric Allshouse, and he was telling me about some of the murals being painted in Roxbury and Worcester. I told him how cool I thought it would be if we could do that here," said Reyes, who owns his own company, Jreyes Designs.

Allshouse has done approximately 10 murals throughout the city, including one in 2019 with the help of high school students at the corner of Broadway and Bradford Street. 

Reyes and Bastien's proposal eventually made it to state Rep. Christina Minicucci, who reached out to Mayor Daniel Rivera on their behalf.

"I feel like this is being done because of her," Reyes said of Minicucci. "Christina was extremely helpful and we're so grateful."

Minicucci said she is proud of the work Reyes and Bastien are doing to bring Lawrence residents of all backgrounds together.

“As a state representative, I’ve made it a priority to demystify government, connect the people of my district with the resources they need, and create opportunities for success. Jason had a solid plan for his street mural, but was struggling to navigate the system," Minicucci said. "I was able to connect him with Mayor Rivera and from that connection they were able to move closer to making their dream a reality.”

Rivera said he is all for the mural as a way to promote inclusion in the city.

"We're at a point where black and brown men and women are losing their lives at the hands of police officers. I'm not for defunding police: I'm doing the opposite. We're a majority minority police department," said Rivera, adding that the Lawrence Police Department recently named its first Latino captain in the department's history.  

As Reyes explains, the message of their mural goes beyond skin color.

"Michael and I were born and raised in Lawrence and are just like everyone else — we're nobody special," said Reyes, who works with Bastien on "The Overall Drip Experience" podcast. "We just had a vision, presented it to the city and are getting it done. We want to inspire others to do the same. We're just trying to make a difference in our community. We don't say 'no' to anything."

To find out more about the Take Action and Inspire nonprofit, email takeactionandinspire@gmail.com. According to Bastien, the group currently seeks youth to mentor and plan to have in-person events once coronavirus restrictions are lifted.

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