Red Stains on the Walls Replaced with Paper Boxes: The Soul Box and Their Mission to Conquer Grief and Speak Out with Art

Rachel Cherry | Boston University | COM 2025

When a gun becomes a suitable replacement for a pencil, use a colored one. 

75,734, and it just keeps climbing. This is the number of people who have died at the hand of a gun since November 18th, 2021, just about two weeks ago. As I am writing this blog post, my New York Times notification appears in the corner of my computer: “Gunman opened fire at Oxford High School”. Add another to the list. 3 dead, 6 injured. So, that makes it 75,344 now, right? I would say yes, but there are so many instances of gun violence in small, less populated parts of this country that go unnoticed as they are not considered “newsworthy”. We write away lives, and who knows who will be erased next?

We are lucky enough, as a country, to have not one but TWO epidemics plaguing our society today. Although possibly overshadowed by the very prominent COVID-19 pandemic, as it is a persisting issue, gun violence is very much a plague that has killed more people recently than ever before as according to the Washington Post, “2020 was the deadliest gun violence year in decades. So far, 2021 is worse.” From school shootings and mass shootings in places of worship to crime and homicide, there seems to be no end. This new normal is not normal at all. 

Number of Deaths in 2021, Gun Violence Archive

Following two of the monumental moments that brought sincere attention to the cause, the Parkland shooting, a mass school shooting that killed 17 people, students and teachers, at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, and the Las Vegas shooting, a shooting on the Las Vegas Strip killing 60 and injuring 411, Leslie Lee created The Soul Box Project in 2017. It is a project designed to create beautifully crafted origami boxes that represent every soul taken by gun violence or injured by gunfire. The project pairs with organizations such as Everytown for Gun Safety, Moms Demand Action, Sandy Hook Promise, March for Our Lives, Giffords PAC, and Brady Campaign. The boxes are decorated with pictures, sayings, drawings, and anything that the family, friends, or peers of the victim consider art. It is not censored, and these people may decorate with whatever helps them grieve. The mission of the company is to help families and those close to the victims of gun violence heal in a way that is not traditional. Many do not think that folding a paper box and putting a picture on it will bring closure, however, it is not the boxes alone that provide closure, but the entire process and surrounding community that allows for healing. The project uses art as an outlet for recovery and recognition of grief and loss.

Boxes of the Soul Box Project, The Soul Box Project

The project takes the collection of loss, grief, and sadness and turns it into a form of beauty, thus conveying that there can be beauty behind misery when you are not alone. Although the boxes are created individually in honor of different people, the project brings the boxes (or survivors and loved ones) together as a powerful voice expressing grief and pain. It is a peaceful yet powerful message that is done in an attempt to not only raise awareness but also help those grieving the loss of their loved ones who were taken far too soon. The blood smeared, the tears cried, all blend into one beautiful mural of colors that almost seem to project happiness. From afar, it just looks like different squares of colors forming aesthetic art, which is what makes this art form so unique. While art pieces similar to this project have been done in the past, The Soul Box Project stands out as they use art as a form of therapy along with visual pleasure and activism rather than all of them separately.

Boxes from deaths and injuries in one year, The Soul Box Project

On October 16 and 17, 2021, This Loss We Carry, opened on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.. This Loss We Carry is the largest exhibition of The Soul Box Project, representing nearly 200,000 deaths and injuries by gunfire in less than three years. The exhibit mirrors Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman’s, The Hill We Climb, the poem recited at President Joe Biden’s Inauguration in January 2021. The speech was a form of resistance in itself, and, although not directly referring to gun violence, it was geared towards representing the unrepresented as well as calling out social, political, and racial issues in American society. The incredible young woman refers to “the loss we carry”, a powerful message that resonated with several, as she describes how we cannot change the past. Miss Gorman discusses how we must come to terms with this loss, this defeat, and carry it on with us to do better in the future. The Soul Box Project exhibition was also intended to do exactly this. As 164,000 boxes were carried out in solemn procession, the viewers stood in silence as they had to bear the magnitude of lives taken and injured as volunteers carried their legacies across the Mall. The project communicates resistance to gun violence, as it is a way to raise awareness to prevent further incidents. However, it is also the goal of the exhibit to take the loss, the grief, and carry it, as Gorman says, to create beauty within the blood, so that these victims’ stories do not land at the bottom of the stack.  

This Loss We Carry on the National Mall in Washington D.C.– October 16-17, The Soul Box Project

If you visit The Soul Box Project’s website, you can find their online exhibit, which is possibly the most powerful of them all. Your finger might get tired scrolling through the pictures of thousands of lovely crafted boxes with heartfelt and anguished messages. When first scrolling, one might think that the boxes are in memory of everyone who died or was injured by a gun in the past decade, however, this only represents about two years’ worth of deaths and injuries by gunfire. Some of us have become numb to the numbers, but the website makes that impossible. I encourage you to stop at some of the boxes with words and photographs as the ones that are the most powerful are hidden within the mix. “Pain”, “Madness”, “How many more?”, echo as you scroll through to reach the end of the exhibit. “We remember you”. 

One of the Boxes of the Project, The Soul Box Project

Although not a traditional, common form of resistance, The Soul Box Project uses grief rather than advocacy to call out America for its poor response and treatment of those who have been affected by gun violence as well as the laws and regulations that must be adjusted in order to go to school, a place of learning, a place of worship, the grocery store, or simply be in your home without fear. Rather than push a political agenda, the soul box project appeals to the emotions of the viewers, allowing the exhibit to speak for itself. They appeal to the viewers’ emotions and emphasize the statement that “this could be you” through other peoples’ loss, ultimately allowing a healing process and a form of activism to occur in unison. 

About the Author | My name is Rachel Cherry. I grew up in Baltimore, Maryland, and I am a Journalism major in the College of Communication and a Computer Science minor in the College of Arts and Sciences. I became more of an advocate for gun control after one of my friends with whom I spent several summers was one of the seventeen victims of the Parkland shooting. It took me several months to come to terms with the loss, and there is a great chance I never fully will because you never think it will be someone you know until it is. Attending March for Our Lives and other organized events with a numb mind will be something I never forget. Living so close to D.C., I wish I could have turned my grief into beauty at the National Mall because it is beneficial to find hope in the little things, and, in this case, there are a lot of people’s little things that make you feel slightly less lonely.

Further Readings, Viewings, and Information!

The Soul Box Project’s Website

Information about 2021 Gun Crisis

Washington Post Article about The Exhibit 

Interview With Leslie Lee, founder of the Soul Box Project

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