What is The Nashville Strong Mural and How did it come about?
At around 12:45 am on March 3rd, 2020 a tornado ripped through Middle Tennessee. My buildings, located in Historic East Nashville at 5 Points, took a direct hit, causing major damage to my 3 restaurants. Beyond the Edge Sports Bar had a 70 foot-tall tree crash through the roof, destroying all the utility systems and just about cut the building in two. Drifters Tennessee BBQ Joint had 30 windows and doors blown out, the huge air conditioning units ripped off the roof and the roof itself damaged. Boston Commons New England Seafood Pub had the entire store front shattered, the roof peeled back, and the awnings destroyed, just to name a few of the major things. Of course all had water and equipment damage caused by the rain water, broken water pipes and the electrical surge created as the power grid was destroyed by the raging storm. And with the power gone 40 to 50 thousand dollars worth of food and beverage inventory went with it. In addition, the tornado completely destroyed a fourth building I owned on the property that housed Gold Club Tattoo Shop and Music City Vintage Clothing Store. That building and their businesses were a 100% loss. I guess I truly did have all my eggs in one basket, so to speak.
Thankfully none of my team or customers, who were inside the buildings when it hit, had been severely hurt. However, needless to say, I was personally "rocked" by the sight of all the destruction; not just of my properties, but of my neighborhood. And being no stranger to PTSD, I could easily recognize and feel the adrenalin surging through my veins.
Emotional trauma and I are old friends. I was first introduced to it over 28 years ago as a young Marine in Desert Storm, so I knew things were about to get really interesting. Trauma for me is usually followed by a surge in adrenaline that lasts for about 7 to 10 days. With that comes disrupted sleep patterns, and a hypersensitivity to just about everything. Thankfully, I had recently discovered EMDR (a cure for PTSD) and was finally dealing with the trauma of the past so I knew that I needed to listen to myself and where my brain and my emotions wanted to go.
At this point let me say 2 things: First, I realize that these were only commercial buildings and businesses. Many of my friends and neighbors lost their homes. Second, my East Nashville community is special in so many ways.
Immediately our Neighbors, the ones who were not hit, (heck, even some who were) and our neighborhood came out of their houses and came to our aid in the truest sense of the word "Community". I was so inspired by the acts of love, support, kindness, and care of which I was the beneficiary. But to be honest, I still had a decision to make: Do I rebuild or do I walk away? Walking away meant not having to deal with the stress and uncertainty of rebuilding and maybe even some of the trauma of seeing what was lost. But it also meant walking away from my community, my customers, and my family of 110 employees that I so deeply loved and loved to serve.
The days that followed the tornado felt more like weeks even though in some ways time seemed to stand still. I really don't know how I made it through each day other than by leaning on the shoulders of the tremendous support of my community, my work family, the hundreds of messages of support that poured in from around the country, and probably, the adrenalin rushing through my veins.
It was on the second or third night after the tornado that I had what I call my "Jerry McGuire Moment." The one in the movie where Jerry is hyper-motivated by his breakthrough Idea. For me, I woke up in the middle of the night, 3:15 am, hyper-motivated with a vision to paint "Nashville Strong 2020" on the side of my building, I posted it on Facebook, and I went back to sleep. (The mysteries of trauma fueled adrenaline 1 minute you're wide awake, the next you are back asleep.)
In my vision the mural was on the exterior wall of Boston Commons facing the direction in which the tornado had come. To me, it wasn't just a painting. It was me shaking my fist or more so my middle finger at that sky that allowed the tornado to come down that path and hurt me and my community. It was the act of a hard charging former U.S. Marine playing Lieutenant Dan in the movie Forest Gump, when he, in full bravado, was sitting on top of the mast of "The Jenny" in the middle of the storm, angry and yelling in stubborn defiance, "Is that all you got? It's going to take more than that to stop me!" (You can insert your own expletives for color as you wish. I don't need to say them, but I know you know I felt them. We all felt them.)
At 6:30 am, I awoke yet again. I was only sleeping for an hour or two at a time, so I did what I do to distract my racing mind, I opened my Facebook app. To my panic I had a whole bunch of buzz around my post, and to make it even worse, I had at least 15 different mural artists volunteering to get it done and people wanting to know how to donate to the project.
My first thought was OMG what have I done!!!! I've opened a can of worms here that I did not intend to open. But like I said, in my experience with PTSD I have learned to listen to my brain and somehow I found myself, almost against my own will, going down this path; letting my brain and my emotions take me where it wanted me to go.
I found myself being drawn to and in contact with mural artist Jason Galaz. Jason and I were not Facebook friends at the time, but a mutual friend tagged him in the comments, to which he replied, "I am on it. I went to bed thinking about this." That is all I needed to hear. I thought to myself, "He went to bed thinking about it and I woke up thinking about it." I wondered if this was the universe connecting us? I don't know. But what I do know is that a whole bunch of coincidences and deja vu moments kept happening to us.
Things like the fact that Jason and my phone number have the same last 4 digits, or that months earlier Milton Chaves (who designed and also painted the mural) had a vision of being at the paint store with a lady and a bunch of kids getting paint for a mural they were doing because something bad had happened in Nashville...turns out that is exactly what happened. My wife and 4 of my kids had to meet Jason and Milton at the paint store to buy supplies with the generous donations from our friends--especially my friends at International Insurance who paid for the bulk of the paint supplies.
Regardless of what anyone believes, by Sunday that week, just a few days after the tornado hit us and before most of the debris was cleared away, Jason, Milton, and Mobe Oner had this amazingly calming and inspiring "Nashville Strong" mural painted on the side of Boston Commons.
To me, it was wonderful to see this beautiful painting rise up out of so much pain and destruction. And this idea that started for me as a "F. You" to the storm is now a beautiful message of hope, support and.....Calm Strength. The kind of calming strength that can come from the love and support of your community. It's neighbors helping neighbors, regardless of race, color, creed, orientation or economic background. It's giving what you have to give. Its doing what you do. No matter how big, no matter how small. If you can help someone who is hurting, you do it. Without judgment, without prejudice, without hesitation or reservation so you can ease a neighbor's pain. We as Nashvillian's know that this is the way this all works. In my hour of need you will help me, and in your hour of need I will help you. That is what it means to me to be Nashville Strong. That is what it means to be a part of this Nashville Community. We give each other strength, that is who we are.
And those words, or rather what they represent, means a lot to me. And the Mural is our gift to our community. Its born out of tragedy and destruction, trauma and pain. And a vision, a blank wall on a damaged building, some creativity, and artistic talent is what we had to give at the time. And it means so much more to me than a painting on a wall, and I hope it means a little something to all who see it, especially our communities of Nashville and Middle Tennessee who were impacted by that storm and its aftermath.
Sincerely, Matt Charette
Note: All of us involved on the Nashville Strong Mural hope that no matter what you have going on, you too will find a little hope, inspiration, and strength to carry on, to rebuild, or to help your Community.
I am so thankful to everyone. My friends and neighbors, my staff, all the artist's who volunteered to bring Nashville Strong to life, especially Jason, Milton, and Mobe who I will always feel a bond with, and to my East Nashville community.
Thank you for reading my story. It doesn't have to end here. You can own your own piece of the Nashville Strong story by visiting our on-line gift store at Attitude Apparel. 100% of the proceeds are directed towards community relief. (it's the least we can do) Here is the address: NashvilleStrong.Boston
One Final Note About PTSD
If you or a loved one has been impacted by trauma, there is help. There is hope. I found EMDR and it has changed my life. It has given me my life back. If you would like to hear more, please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org - Sincerely, you deserve it.
These prints are also available at On the Avenue an Autism Support Community.