On Monday April 21, Boston's iconic marathon finished without a hitch. It was hard to believe that we'd already crossed the one-year mark of the bombings on Boylston Street, which shook the city of Boston and our nation. But we were not rattled for long. In fact, a group of seven moms from Naples, Florida sprang into action just days after the attack to show Boston and the world that there is more compassion than there is hate. Kari Wagner founded the Prayer Canvas: America4Boston project to create artistic canvases from around the country to send physical well wishes and messages of healing to Boston.
"The idea was to create a giant symbol of our compassion, resilience and unity as a country and as a world," said Wagner. "I wanted to show that millions of people still care about one another and want to do good things, instead of a small minority of people that wreak havoc in our lives, strike fear in our hearts, and try to change the way we live."
Starting with one 6 by 18 foot canvas, these moms got down on their knees and drew out 360 squares that could be decorated and signed in red, white and blue, with messages of hope for Boston.
"I wanted something that everyone could do from age 2 and up," she said. And the project was funded entirely through her team's "creative budgeting" so that no one felt they had to donate in order to partake. Some artists did tuck bills under the sandbags weighing down the canvases, but these donations will go to One Fund Boston.
A true grass roots initiative, the seven moms reached out to friends, family, and former co-workers across the U.S. on their mission to get all 50 states involved. The campaign snowballed and to date, there are 215 canvases totaling over 20,000 square feet that have been completed by nearly 150,000 participants with more coming in. "We've been to major sporting events, schools, churches, festivals, state fairs, rehab centers, senior facilities, it truly is a great representation of the fabric of America," said Wagner.
Daryl Sissman is one of the original Florida mothers who started this campaign with Kari. A Boston native and mother of three children ages 9, 7, and 5, Sissman felt that this could be her outlet to "help the city heal." She came back to her hometown last week for the presentations of the canvases in Boston—from the Boston Medical Center Ceremony to laying out the banners on the Boston commons to the Red Sox Tribute at Fenway Park. "We like to say 'Seven moms, 11 months, 50 states, 100,000 messages strong for one Boston,'" Sissman quoted. As a mom of two kids, ages 7 and 5, it was also important to Wagner that she show her children and the future generation that a small group can do something huge.
The canvases will be displayed all over Boston—from the airport to the Medical Center—and even, hopefully, one day on Capitol Hill. "The media would ask me 'Did you ever think it would get this big?' Wagner recalled. "I think the anticipation is that I would say no, but I always did because I believe in people. I believe in the goodness of people. I just wanted a giant reminder of that."
Find out more about America 4 Boston and ways you can get involved here.
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Photograph: Credit Andrew Nelson / (From left to right) Nicole Soderlund, Soofia Khan, Daryl Sissman, Kari Wagner, Jen Warkel, Kim Bellestri, Melissa Kruk