Altruistic tattoo artists are helping people ready to close the negative chapter of their old life and start a new one. 

By Hana Hong
July 16, 2020

Most of us can confidently say that we are not the same person we were a few years ago. For people with tattoos, who often get the permanent skin markings as a symbol of their emotions and values, it can sometimes be a lingering reminder of the person they wish to shed.

The problem is that tattoo removal or coverup services can ring in a pretty high receipt, preventing some people from putting that life behind them. In an effort to fight negativity and systemic racism, tattoo parlors everywhere are using ink to unite communities across the country by offering free appointments to anyone who wants to cover up their hateful tattoos. The movement was initiated by tattoo artists Jeremiah Swift and Ryun King at the Gallery X Art Collective, who were inspired to start the service amid the Black Lives Matter and racial justice movement. 

“Gallery X Art Collective would like to extend the offer to change your future in becoming a better person,” read an Instagram post on the gallery’s page. “If it is hate related, in any way, we will schedule you a day to come get it covered up for free, at the artist's choosing. We have plenty of predawn designs and flash books, 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, you’ll get a class tattoo for free that can start your path to being the person you were meant to be.”

Since posting on social media about the free cover-ups, the shop has already received an outpouring of requests from people wishing to cover up their hateful symbols. Soon, other parlors across the country were inspired to join—and they created the “erasing the hate” campaign, also known as “cover the hate,” with other tattoo artists. 

"It's definitely a long overdue change," King told CNN. "Having anything hate related is completely unacceptable. 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."

The removed symbols include confederate flags, gang symbols, anti-religion symbols, racial slurs, and swastika markings. King says he even transformed one woman’s Confederate flag into Pickle Rick from Rick & Morty emerging from a lotus flower. For these evolved people who are ashamed of the symbols and just wish to get them off their bodies, the new service is offering hope and even a chance at a career. 

"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."

Tattoo artist Jenni Rivera of Tennessee, who made the same offer at her tattoo parlor, told TODAY that she is booked for the rest of the year doing one free tattoo a week and has 150 people on the list for next year and 300 more texts to go through.

“I don’t really care about the backstory,” said Rivera. “I don’t want to ask them why they were hateful. I just want to get the ugly stuff off.”

“I guess you become a recluse, when you want to change as a person and you can’t because you have these marks. And I think there are people out there like that everywhere,” Steve Murzi, another participating tattoo artist in Seymour, Conn., told the Valley Independent Sentinel.

Artists say they will cover up anyone's tattoos, even if they are from out of state, and offer numerous designs they can choose from. They’re all adopting a no-judgment, no-questions-asked policy regarding the old tattoos—and only ask that people live the new chapter of their lives with love and kindness.

If you know of anyone who might be interested in the service, tattoo artists are asking people for their help in getting the word out. They’re also putting out a call to their fellow tattoo artists to step in and ensure that as many hateful tattoos are removed as possible.

“There’s people out there risking their lives protesting, and people who have been living with (racism) their whole life,” said King. “What’s a couple months of work for me? I finally get to do a part, so I’m going to do as much as I can.”