You can’t erase your past. But, sometimes, you can cover it up.
Ryun King and Jeremiah Swift, artists at the Gallery X Art Collective tattoo parlor in Murray, Kentucky, recently announced that they would ink over any racist tattoo free of charge — as a show of solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement and protests against police brutality.
“I just wanted to help out in some way. It’s the only platform I have,” Swift, 34, told local outlet KFVS.
“Having anything hate-related is completely unacceptable,” King, 48, told CNN. “A lot of people when they were younger just didn’t know any better and were left with mistakes on their bodies. We just want to make sure everybody has a chance to change.”
Since announcing the new promotion on June 7, the artists have already received a few dozen requests, even from out-of-state folks.
“We have plenty of predawn designs and flash books,” the inkers wrote in a Facebook post, “so if you feel it’s time to change your hate, or have been reformed but been too broke to cover your mistake of a tattoo, come see me [and] you’ll get a class tattoo for free that can start your path to being the person you were meant to be.”
They added that those who wish to cover gang symbols are also invited to call.
“One of the people we got was a man with both of his forearms completely covered in hate symbols, absolutely everywhere. How is this man going to interact with society with the mistakes he made 10, 15, 20 years ago?” King said. “We also got a guy with a giant swastika who said he has never taken his shirt off in front of his kids. I like seeing that. I like seeing people want to change themselves for the better. That swells me full of emotions.”
One of their clients was Jennifer Tucker, 36, who wanted to have a Confederate flag tattoo on her ankle covered. Inked when she was 18 years old, Tucker said she was just following the crowd at her high school and wanted to rebel against her family.
“I went to a school where there wasn’t a single black person,” the mother of two told CNN. “Our community had no black families. They would literally run them out every time one moved in. Everyone in my school flew rebel flags and had rebel flag tattoos and I bandwagoned and got the tattoo. It was a horrible thing to do.”
After high school, Tucker transformed her beliefs and found herself involved in local activism, particularly related to racial injustice.
She did not hesitate to call when she found out about what the Gallery X Art Collective was doing in Murray, about a 40-minute drive southeast of where she lives in Paducah.
“I just needed to get that symbol of hatred off of my body,” said Tucker. “Every time I attend a group meeting or protest, I make a new friend. And I don’t want to be standing next to them with a Confederate flag on my leg.”
It had been almost 20 years of “looking down at the tattoo and regretting it,” she said. Now when she looks at her ankle, she sees an illustration of Pickle Rick, a character from Adult Swim’s sci-fi comedy cartoon “Rick and Morty.”
“It feels so amazing — it’s life-changing,” she said. “I knew I had to do it, to be an example for other people who were in the same position. There’s not a whole lot I can do, but this is something I can do to spread love, not hate.”
Tucker knows she’s setting a better example for her children now, too. She told KFVS, “My daughter said, ‘I’m really proud, Mom, that you’re taking that off of you.’ ”