Local muralist Ben Goulart takes sky duties on the new Josiah Lawson mural in Arcata | Photos: Andrew Goff

With College Cove in the background, a garden of (real) native plants below and symbols sprinkled throughout, David Josiah Lawson’s image will overlook the university where he would have graduated in 2019.

Watching community members add paint to the north-facing wall of the D Street Neighborhood Center in Arcata on Thursday afternoon, Charmaine Lawson, Josiah’s mom, said she can’t imagine a better place for the mural. 

“Everyone can see. It’s right above his university, and he would ride his skateboard down from campus to Safeway,” she said. “I feel like his footsteps, his memory, his vision, his light – everything is being shown right here.”

Written across the mural, in Josiah’s own handwriting, are the familiar words: “Justice for David Josiah Lawson.”

Seeing those words is a heavy thing, Charmaine said.

“It should be ‘Honoring the Life of David Josiah Lawson,’” she said. “It’s heartbreaking for me to see the words ‘Justice for David Josiah Lawson’ after seven years.”

Charmaine Lawson gets a painting lesson from local artist Blake Reagan

Lawson with outgoing Arcata City Manager Karen Diemer

The new exit view leaving Cal Poly Humboldt’s main southern walking path

Josiah was killed by stabbing at a college party in Arcata in April 2017, and no one has been convicted in connection with the killing. The Lawson family has fought tirelessly to see justice and keep Josiah’s story alive over the seven years since.

“For those people that know what truly happened and can shed some more light to what really took place that night… they’re out there, and they’re going to come forward,” Charmaine said. “If they still live here in Humboldt County, they’re going to see this and they’re going to be like: ‘Wow, this was unfair.’”

The mural is one result of a 2021 settlement agreement between the Lawson family and the City of Arcata. Charmaine expressed gratitude to the City of Arcata, and particularly Arcata City Manager Karen Diemer, for supporting the mural.

Project leader Benjamin Funke said that the mural is a community effort, start to finish. It’s a collaboration between the Lawson family, the NAACP Eureka Chapter, the City of Arcata, the Rotary Club of Arcata Sunrise and REBOUND, a DreamMaker project of the Ink People

“I think it’s really important to the spirit of the piece – it’s about bringing this community together, and that’s why it’s at a community center. This location is just perfect,” Funke said. 

“Every student that goes to school here, and every student that will go to school here, is going to be able to see this mural and ask who Josiah Lawson was. That story is never gonna go away. It’s gonna live.”

From location to process to the actual image, just about every element of the mural is symbolic.

The content itself is intentional down to each brushstroke. The design’s focus is the widely recognizable photo of Josiah – the one used on posters calling for justice – redrawn for the mural by his aunt. Because it was the natural environment that drew Josiah to Humboldt, he sits before College Cove and is framed by redwoods on either side. 

“When you see it, you’re like, ‘Oh, I’ve been to that space before!’ and so that helps humanize Josiah,’” Funke said. “I think it’s going to have a much more uplifting, more celebratory feeling to it than what we’re used to seeing as his image in the public eye.”

A dreamy skateboarder made of cloud zooms through the sky, because Josiah loved skateboarding. And the team plans to add a message from Charmaine in a facsimile of her handwriting somewhere on the mural. That message will convey that the artwork is “not just for DJ – this is for every missing and murdered person in Humboldt County,” Charmaine said.

“For me, this is just a small token for my son but a bigger token for those families who are seeking justice.”

Charmaine Lawson painting on Thursday afternoon. Photo: Jacquelyn Opalach

Planted along the bottom of the wall will be a garden of native flower- and fruit-bearing plants, supplied and maintained by Arcata Rotary. Charmaine said she likes to imagine people coming to pick a berry and talk to Josiah.

Though progress is moving quickly, the team said they’ll be working on the mural at least through the weekend. Community members are invited to come pick up a paintbrush and climb aboard the aerial lifts to help finish it up. 

“It’s an honor to get to work on a project like this,” said Blake Reagan, one of the muralists working on the piece. “There’s a lot of feelings involved. I try to express joy in my work, but sometimes art is more than joy. Art can be in memory of people. Art can question justice. Art has a big spirit, and hopefully this mural encompasses a few of the purposes for murals.”


Ben Goulart

Mariqus Ludd

Blake Reagan

Charmaine enjoys the new mural of her son along with project leader Ben Funke