LYNN — It all began last summer, as vibrant murals in support of Black Lives Matter appeared around the country, from Washington D.C. to Worcester. That prompted Carlos Prudencio to ask, “Why isn’t there one in Lynn?”
The simple question launched what Prudencio, 18, calls a “long struggle” to win the necessary approval and funds for the project — a mission he undertook alongside Damianny Garrido, 19, as they were completing their senior year of high school.
This weekend, their efforts culminated in 16-plus hours of painting by six artists and more than 100 volunteers, who flocked to Essex Street to dip brushes and rollers into bright paints and emblazon their message onto the asphalt.
Together, a word by each artist spelled out Black Lives Matter — not once, but twice, so that the phrase is readable from both sides of the street, at Lynn District Courthouse, and at Lynn City Hall.
“It was like the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen in your life,” Prudencio said. To him, the mural represents “perseverance and resistance, to keep going forward, to fight for the cause that you believe in.”
The first obstacle that Prudencio and Garrido faced was from city officials, who explained that permitting any message on a street would turn the space into a “public forum,” where all forms of free expression had to be accepted under the First Amendment.
Prudencio understood the concern, but wondered how other cities had been able to create their murals without that worry. And he knew there was community support for the project in Lynn — an online petition had amassed over 2,000 signatures.
So Prudencio and Garrido recruited a pair of pro-bono lawyers, who helped them find a legal workaround: the government speech doctrine. If the message came from the government itself, it was not subject to free speech challenges — a fact akin to “a little piece of gold,” said Garrido.
In April, Prudencio and Garrido went before the City Council to ask them to approve the mural. Garrido tried to prepare herself beforehand for another setback.
“It was nerve wracking,” she said. She felt like any misstep — even a stutter — could cost them the project.
But it didn’t. The mural was approved by a unanimous vote, and on May 6, Lynn Mayor Thomas McGee signed off on an order to permit the project.
Even when that happened, Garrido said, she still had trouble believing that the approval was real. She remembers thinking to herself, “Let’s hope they don’t take it away.”
While they fought to get the OK, Prudencio and Garrido also had to figure out how to fund the project. They’d need to purchase the paint, compensate the artists, and provide food throughout a weekend of work.
So they formed an organization — One Lynn, One Love — designed and sold T-shirts, and launched a GoFundMe, which has so far raised more than $32,000. They also sought support from Beyond Walls, a nonprofit based in Lynn that helps communities organize and commission public art projects.
Prudencio and Garrido had to handle a host of other logistics, too, from recruiting and selecting a slate of local artists to scheduling dozens of volunteers into shifts.
“It was exhausting, but yesterday felt amazing,” Garrido said.
McGee lauded Prudencio and Garrido for their work on the project, calling them “tremendous leaders” in the community.
“They came up with the vision to do this, they worked hard to make it happen, they brought a lot of people together, and the mural is beautiful,” McGee said in a phone interview.
Officials initially had concerns about possible legal ramifications of the project, he said, “but we were able to get past the the concerns and make it happen.”
The final feat for Prudencio and Garrido was the painting itself, which took place over the weekend. After the forecast predicted rain on Sunday, the team had to complete most of the work on Saturday, starting at 7 a.m. and going into the night.
“It’s a massive undertaking,” said Michael Grimaldi, 39, of Salem — one of the artists who is also known as Grimdrops. “It’s a big, big project.” The mural spans more than 200 feet.
“I’m still kind of trying to wrap my head around how incredible yesterday was,” Grimaldi said. He said he hopes it offers the community “a sense of pride.”
Prudencio said his hope for the mural is simple: that when people pass by it they see that Black lives matter.
“I want everybody to understand, inside and out of Lynn, that it was the community that came together,” he said. “The whole community of Lynn cares about Black lives, and thinks that they matter.”
After the skies cleared on Sunday, the artists returned to add finishing touches to their work, while Prudencio and Garrido held a celebration at the site. Dozens of locals gathered to listen to hip-hop, snack on soul food, and admire the artwork.
The six artists brought different styles to their words.
Jah’Nyah Spencer, 18, of Salem chose a yellow backdrop for her word — “Black.” She incorporated a sneaker to criticize what she feels is an over-emphasis on fashion within her community.
Grimaldi chose to fill his word — “Lives” — with shades of gray, to show that “we’re all the same thing.”
There was just one interruption to the otherwise cheerful afternoon, said Spencer, when a man shouted “All Lives Matter” and tried to ride his bike through the wet paint. He was stopped by attendees, and later arrested by police. Luckily, she said, there was no serious damage to the mural.
Spencer said she hopes the mural will spark the right kind of discussions about racism in Lynn and the United States. “I don’t want to see this continue,” she said.
Adriana Paz, 39, a community activist from Lynn who supported Prudencio and Garrido throughout the process, said she had been emotional since the first drop of paint went down on Saturday.
“It means so much in terms of the youth and what they’ve accomplished, but it also means so much as a Black woman here in Lynn,” she said. “Seeing the community come together and with joy paint this — and really believe the words that we are painting on this mural — that was a great moment of healing and a great moment of joy for Black people in Lynn.”
Camille Caldera was a Globe intern in 2022.Follow her on Twitter @camille_caldera.