It’s the mantra that began the healing of a devastated city, and it was created inside a Little Building common room within hours of the Boston Marathon attacks.
“The actual moment of us creating ‘Boston Strong’ is not that interesting,” said Nicholas Reynolds ’14. “I handed over my laptop to Chris and said, ‘Hey, how does this look?’”
They didn’t know it at the time, but by putting those two simple words on T-shirts, Reynolds and Chris Dobens ’16 coined the most popular catchphrase that defined the resiliency of the Greater Boston community.
“Boston Strong,” with its yellow and blue lettering, continues to be replicated on hats, ribbons, and wristbands, on signs at professional sports games, museums, businesses, and on public transit; and repeated by world leaders, media figures and everyday people.
Reynolds and Dobens first hoped to sell 100 T-shirts at $20 apiece to raise money for the marathon bombing victims, but by the one-month anniversary of the attacks they had collected $837,000 for The One Fund and gained national media attention.
“It hasn’t really hit me yet,” said Dobens, a Marketing Communication major from Lowell, Massachusetts.
“It’s hard to imagine your idea having as much impact as this has,” said Reynolds, a Visual and Media Arts major with a concentration in Business Studies, who lives in Gorham, Maine.
“It’s really unbelievable,” Dobens said. “I’ve never felt so good to be able to help people.”
The family of 8-year-old Richard Martin of Dorchester, Massachusetts, who died in the attacks, posted a statement on their website expressing thanks to the community, saying, “Martin was ‘Boston Strong.’”
“It makes me happy to see that the people affected … are staying strong after everything that’s happened to them,” Dobens said. “I can’t even explain it. It really takes my breath away.”
Boston Strong was the focal point of Emerson College’s 133rd Commencement undergraduate address May 12 by Trustee and Will & Grace creator Max Mutchnick ’87.
“Emerson students used skill sets most likely learned in college to start healing this city,” Mutchnick said. “They were able to create Boston Strong because they’re Emerson Strong.”
The two friends say the idea to sell T-shirts came within a couple hours of the bombings as they sat in their locked-down residence hall less than a mile down Boylston Street from the blast site.
Dobens, an aspiring clothing designer who began designing T-shirts with his father as a hobby in high school, offered up the idea.
“For a student struggling with money, we figured the average amount they’d want to give is $20,” he said. “And we wanted them to have something to remember the fact that they helped out.”
Reynolds said they were tinkering with short and simple catchphrases that would resonate—getting inspiration from the previous “Livestrong” and “Army Strong” campaigns.
“We wanted something everyone could rally behind.”
“Boston Strong really emerged as a simple, effective way of what we wanted to say without being too specific,” he said. “We wanted something everyone could rally behind.”
The duo originally did not want to put their names to the T-shirts, but as their venture skyrocketed in popularity through social media, so did knock-offs that donated a smaller percentage to charity. Of the $20 used to buy their shirt, $5 goes toward production and $15 is donated.
“We wanted to be transparent out of respect for the Boston community,” Reynolds said. “We wanted everyone to know we’re not getting paid for this.”
With the help of Lane Brenner ’13, a Communication Studies major, who has overseen social media publicity—creating Twitter hashtags and maintaining a Facebook page with 18,000 likes—Reynolds and Dobens have held a week-by-week contract with InkForThePeople.com, the company printing the shirts and distributing the proceeds to The One Fund.
“At first we thought this would be very low maintenance,” Reynolds said. “Now we’ll continue for the near future at least.”
The friends have met with a writing student at Harvard University about possibly making a commemorative book to honor the victims of the attacks, and donating the proceeds.
“We have to continue to let this grow and figure out what path it’s going to take,” Dobens said.
Reynolds, who takes film and business courses, says this experience is getting him to reassess where he wants to take his career. Dobens says it reaffirms his desire to study marketing.
“Now I really want to go into marketing for nonprofit organizations,” he said. “I’ve never been this happy in my life. I’m helping people who really need it and meeting people who want to help. That’s what I want to do for the rest of my life—help people.”