August 15, 2018

Where Will ‘Boston Strong’ Go From Here?

By Kate Royals | from

“If the sports networks donated to The One Fund every time they asked an exhausted Boston athlete in a post-game interview what ‘Boston Strong’ meant to them, we would expect the fundraising totals to be signiÌøcantly higher.” Emerson students (from left, in T-shirts) Chris Dobens, Lane Brenner and Nick Reynolds with (from left) Jay Berman and Todd Richheimer, founders of Ink to the People.

Editor’s Note: This article has been written by Nick Reynolds, Lane Brenner and Chris Dobens, the Emerson College students who helped spearhead and popularize the words “Boston Strong.” There is a commercial side to every fundraiser, and the trio reflect on that – and how the slogan still has the power for good.

When we began selling T-shirts the night of April 15th, 2013 – a shirt of blue and gold emblazoned with the words ”Boston Strong” – we had no way of knowing how popular the shirts or the phrase would become. We set a humble goal with a simple promise: Sell 110 T-shirts in the next week and all net proceeds would be donated to those affected by the day’s tragic events.

There was no One Fund Boston, no similar fundraisers and, most disturbingly, no answers. Throughout the week, we watched each of those change before our eyes, for better or for worse.

We took orders for 37,000 T-shirts in that Ìørst week from our Emerson College dorm room, where the three of us were undergraduates at the time, amazed by the support our campaign found through social media. A campaign meant to last one week is still alive more than 52 weeks later, and our charity T-shirts have now raised more than one million dollars for The One Fund. We are so grateful to the thousands upon thousands who purchased T-shirts through our campaign.

The shirts are only half the story.

More compelling has been the spread of the phrase ”Boston Strong,” a slogan that came to us from the popularization of phrases such as ”Livestrong,” ”Army Strong” and ”Country Strong,” and greatly inspired by President Barack Obama’s statement the evening of the tragedy: ”Boston is a tough and resilient town. So are its people.”

It is an empowering idea, proactive in nature, that the people in Boston are imbued with a certain brand of strength – strength that makes them particularly resilient in the face of a tragedy such as this. It is admittedly vague and endlessly applicable. But its roots lie in the support of the victims and survivors of the Boston Marathon bombings.

A year can change a lot. ”Boston Strong” was popularized, although not coined, by the Boston Red Sox organization – apparently the result of encouragement from third baseman Will Middlebrooks. From the ”B Strong” logo on the Green Monster to the 617 jersey and Commissioner’s Trophy reverently placed on the marathon Ìønish line, the Red Sox have guided the phrase into the blood of the city. The words ”Boston” and ”Strong” have become almost inseparable, due in no small part to the Sox’s adoption of the phrase.

As much as we talk about the ubiquitous use of ”Boston Strong,” we have been deeply moved by the more personal stories surrounding the phrase.

We’ve received a number of photos of people who have tattooed the words onto their bodies, people who have been so profoundly affected that they see the phrase as part of who they are. We have received countless poems, songs, videos and stories from people all over the world, using these outlets to heal and make sense of a nonsensical event.

We have heard of survivor and amputee Mery Daniel, who refused to be photographed for the press without her ”Boston Strong” shirt.

We have seen civilian Ìørst responder Carlos Arredondo wearing his ”Boston Strong” shirt almost as often as his trademark cowboy hat.

We read a statement from the Richard family, in which they remember their son Martin as ”Boston Strong.” Never has the virality of a hashtag felt more insigniÌøcant than in that moment. It did not matter if a single person ordered a shirt. Our words were a parent’s eulogy for their child, senselessly taken before his time. Even the most staggering numbers could not mean more than that.

Where does ”Boston Strong” go from here?

Does it become a tourist T-shirt, to be sold alongside ”Wicked Pissah” and Harvard University apparel? Our shirt is available for purchase at Faneuil Hall, the Prudential Center, Boston Common, South Station, Logan Airport and many stores in between, almost always at a price discount with little or no proceeds donated to the survivors’ or victims’ funds.

They are, of course, not actually our shirts – not that a tourist or even an average citizen would have any way of knowing that. We were never asked permission, nor do we have any legal grounds to stop these proÌøt-hungry copycats. As such, this seems unlikely to stop anytime soon, the phrase becoming increasingly proÌøtable as it separates from the bombings.

Image via Ink to the People

Or perhaps the future of ”Boston Strong” is in sports, as we saw in both the Bruins and Red Sox playoff runs over this past year. If the sports networks donated to The One Fund every time they asked an exhausted Boston athlete in a post-game interview what ”Boston Strong” meant to them, we would expect the fundraising totals to be signiÌøcantly higher. Of course, the totals are not and the networks did not, but those interviews did make for some compelling television.

So doesn’t this idea of ”Boston Strong” moving on from its original context pose a threat to the survivors and victims around whom we rallied? On this one-year anniversary, the overwhelming trend in the news has been heart-warming recovery stories, tying up a year of tragedy with a nice bow.

The reality is far less appealing: Survivors continue their daily struggle of surgeries, physical therapy, relationships to nurture and lives to live. Some have spent the better part of this year in recovery, and the rest attending events and press appearances to keep their recuperation in the forefront of our minds. We’ll still be talking about Boston Strong next year. We must not forget the survivors it stands for.

The road to recovery is a marathon, not a sprint. A year is just a mile marker, not the Ìønish line.

It is perhaps unavoidable that the press moves on, and takes with it the public’s desire – or motivation – to donate Ìønancially. It has been well documented that the central difference between a successful and unsuccessful charitable cause is press coverage.

But ”Boston Strong” has always been about more than Ìønancial donations. It’s about a supportive community, a storied city and a phrase around which to rally. Whatever the future of ”Boston Strong” brings, we hope it never loses its roots: the people for whom it was started. They have been through so much, and they have a long road ahead of them. We think they will appreciate any strength we can give them, even if it’s just two simple words.


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