Life is better when we come together.

If we've learned anything over the past two years, it's that things just aren't the same when we're apart. As a DJ and radio personality, the biggest lesson that I took away from COVID was that I wasn't in the entertainment business, the music business, or the event business.

I was in the gathering business.

Like many industries that came to a halt, I suddenly found one facet of my work almost non-existent (thank God for streaming though, right?). It was also quickly realized that a lot of our community depended on that gathering business as we saw restaurants, dancehalls, event spaces, retail, non-profits, sports, and just about every industry suffer due to lack of gathering.

I won't bore you with details, but the business side of our community wasn't the only thing suffering due to lack of gathering. It quickly began to erode our quality of life. The one thing that we wanted to do to take our minds off of everything that was bringing us down was literally the one thing that would only make our situation worse.

Fast forward to today, and we've come a long way. Sure, we still have a ways to go, but we've navigated to a point where I can tell you that I'm hearing live music from a boudin cookoff from the window of my studio office in downtown Lafayette as I write this.

A few miles down I-10, Crowley is celebrating its 84th Annual International Rice Festival. Not far from that cookoff in downtown Lafayette that I told you about earlier, tents are going up on Jefferson Street for Gulf Brew later on today. And at that same corner of Garfield and Jefferson, I can see a bright colorful mural that says "Life is better when we come together."

That same phrase that I opened this story with couldn't be more apparent than it is this weekend (especially with this weather, right?) and I think back to the first time I heard it.

I was at a board meeting for the Acadiana Center for the Arts. I was a new member of the board and came on at a time when we were handcuffed by the coronavirus. Many of the people that I met with via Zoom I wouldn't actually meet until nearly a year after I was elected to the board. Because, like most of the venues and art galleries in the world, we were shuttered due to COVID-19.

At one of those meetings, I can remember our executive director Sam Oliver thinking ahead to the days when we could gather again, and he came up with these yard signs that had that simple message that I've shared with you twice already: "Life is better when we come together."

As I remember pivoting and getting creative to make ends meet through that difficult time, I said to myself "boy, ain't that the truth."

Months later, I was approached by a friend named Aileen Bennett to be a part of her "Do Good" project. You can read all about it here, but the simplest way to explain it is that I (along with a handful of others in our community) would be given $250 and my goal would be to do as much good as I possibly could with it.

Almost instantly I thought of two things: The devastation that had just taken place due to Hurricane Ida and the terrible surge of COVID that our region was in the midst of due to the Delta variant. While that money would be a great help to BOTH of those causes, I honestly felt like the impact could be bigger. What was the common denominator between those two things? What else was I not thinking of as far as how I could not only "do good" but foster the doing of good within others?

At a time when we were all feeling weird and beaten down, what if I could hold up a HUGE sign to remind everyone that we're simply better when we come together?

Then it hit me.

My partners at Clandestine Collective and I have always talked about how cool it would be to put up a huge mural on the blank wall of the building at Garfield and Jefferson that currently houses The Office Bar. It's the busiest corner in one of the busiest districts of Lafayette. Whether by car, bike or on foot—it's the place where people come together the most in a part of town that is known for bringing people together in restaurants, bars, venues, coffee shops, parks, in addition to the many local businesses in downtown Lafayette.

My first call was to my best friend and incredibly talented artist, Marc "Fresh" Verret. He's already done a few pieces in Lafayette—including the Parc De Lafayette wall downtown—and even though he works out of Baton Rouge, Lafayette has been an extended home for him over the last 20+ years.

My next calls were to ACA Executive Director Sam Oliver, Downtown Lafayette CEO Anita Begnaud, and owner/operator of The Office Bar Eric Macicek. I told them about my idea for the Do Good Project—and before I could even get to my sales pitch, they were all in and immediately agreed to match the $250 (and then some).

The collaborative investment was important to me because I wanted to "Do Good" by "coming together" rather than one individual or organization footing the bill. Over the next few weeks, we all think-tanked a design that included the "Life is better.." message but would also be a center point for people to come together for photos.

We also wanted to include elements that symbolized life being better when we came together—whether it was coming together to tackle the fourth surge of COVID, coming together to help rebuild after storms, or simply coming together over food, drinks, and dancing.

Once we all decided on a design, Marc came down and began to sketch it out. Almost instantly, people came together to see what was going on. They were curious as to what was going on the big wall.

As the days passed, more and more people began to gather around Marc while the mural began to take shape.

At one point, a gentleman on a bike stopped by (unsolicited) and held up a flashlight so that he could continue working into the night to have the mural done by the big weekend in downtown Lafayette that lay ahead.

Once it was done, it somehow looked even better than it was drawn up and it definitely livened up the busiest corner in downtown Lafayette.

My hopes are that this mural will not only make for a cool backdrop or street art, but will inspire others to come together for common good—whether it's helping out a neighbor in need, or volunteering in your community. Speaking of coming together, I can't thank The Office, Downtown Lafayette, Acadiana Center for the Arts, the Do Good Project, and artist Marc Fresh for coming together to get this done.

So, the next time you're downtown or in town, make a trip to the mural—and bring a few friends if you can. After all, life (and pictures) is better when we come together.

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