By David Perry
Like others around the world, Jason Reyes was horrified by the video of George Floyd being killed by Minneapolis police, as well as the Black lives lost before and after. Like many, Reyes struggled to find an outlet for his feelings.
It was a conversation with a teacher from his days at Lawrence High School’s Humanities and Leadership Academy that sparked a project that also makes a big statement about local pride. Reyes formed a nonprofit partnership with another Lawrence man, podcaster Michael Bastien, called Take Action and Inspire. They plan to do one community art project each summer, and inspire others to do the same.
Reyes, a senior art major concentrating in graphic design, will remake a section of Lawrence Street with a Black Lives Matter street mural in his hometown on Oct. 25. He’s currently raising funds for the project, with a goal of $10,000, on a GoFundMe page.
Even before the mural’s first drop of paint on the asphalt, the idea and commitment earned Reyes the 2020 Impactful Artist Award from Lawrence Mayor Dan Rivera during Hispanic Heritage Month.
“I wanted to help raise awareness of Black Lives Matter,” says Reyes, who runs Jreyes Designs LLC, a designer of logos, flyers and photography for local entrepreneurs, business owners and athletes.
“There was also a point when there was rioting and looting in some places during protests. And I started hearing things like, ‘Oh, Lawrence is going up. They’ll start looting there. They’ll be tearing it apart.’ I’m from Lawrence, and we have a bad image. It’s no secret. But I don’t feel that way about the city. And you know what? Nothing happened here. Nothing.”
Reyes also wanted to do something to uplift his fellow Lawrence residents and highlight the possibilities of making a difference in the community.
“Another reason we’re doing this is to help inspire the city and community that it’s possible to accomplish something. It’s about equality, no matter who you are. Who am I? Really nobody, no one special like most people. But this allows me to use graphic design to do something very positive,” he says.
None of this surprises Melissa Schrenker, an assistant teaching professor of art and design who has had Reyes in two typography classes.
“I’m so proud of him,” says Schrenker. “Jason is the sort of person who, when he speaks, makes people want to listen. I have learned quite a lot from him. Some students ask questions that make you think. Jason doesn’t just spit back information. Sometimes, I have to get back to him with answers. He’s a leader and he’s not doing something about politics with this project, he’s doing something about human rights.”
“We’re doing this is to help inspire the city and community that it’s possible to accomplish something. It’s about equality, no matter who you are. ”
-Graphic Design senior Jason Reyes of Lawrence
Originally, the project targeted $4,000 with its funding effort, but a large retailer suggested the effort would cost more, requiring 110 gallons of yellow paint and other materials, in addition to shirts for the 50 volunteer helpers, a police detail and other expenses.
The city is allowing the Take Action and Inspire team eight hours (from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.) to complete the mural. Due to COVID-19, the city limited volunteers to 50 – the first 25 will map and outline the letters of “Black Lives Matter” on the street, and the second group of 25 will fill them in.
“It started with a simple conversation between me and my high school art teacher, Mr. (Eric) Allshouse,” says Reyes. “We talked about other murals in other communities and I said, ‘We should do something here.’ And he encouraged me to do something and helped us find the people who could help it happen. Eventually, it caught the attention of Mayor Rivera, who supported the idea.”
The section of Lawrence Street the mural will decorate is at the apex of past, present and future. In addition to a nearby school, it is also where the local YMCA stands, a place where generations of kids (including Reyes) have spent a lot of time. And across the street is historic Campagnone Common, the city’s main park, as well as city hall.