Here is how it all began, this crazy Canvas Creek School Project. There were Eight girls, between the ages of 13 and 16, who created art during a birthday party. Together. When they arrived one said, “we’re really loud.” My team and I laughed.
I introduced them to the process- the rules- the secrets- the silence. I wish you could have seen their faces. Silence? They grimaced, laughed, and then, because it’s always polite to mind the adults, especially one who looks a bit like a grandma, they stilled. Silence washed over the room.
This event was held shortly after our test phase, back when I thought I’d work only with adults. Before I knew what I didn’t know. These girls were the ﬁrst group of teens I’d worked with. I didn’t know how they’d respond, how tribal a group of teens could become, how much the art would mean to them.
I soon found out.
During the second stage of the process, Become, their movements were huge, they painted on faces, painted with their hands, and thoroughly enjoyed the freedom. The freedom to create. The freedom of silence. The freedom of acceptance. The freedom to work together. Without judgment. Praising, with gestures and smiles, each other’s efforts, no matter how minor.
On one canvas, the one with the “wildest” youth, the leader began to create letters with her ﬁngers.
Dragging them through the paint. Soon, others followed her lead.
One ﬁnger, then many ﬁngers.
One letter. P.
One more. E.
They slowed. A.
They looked at each other. C.
Remember, this is happening in silence.
They nodded their heads. E.
My heart stopped. O.
My eyes ﬁlled. V.
They went over and over the letters. Tracing calm into the chaos.
Tears filled my eyes, and my staff’s, too. We received, in that moment, complete understanding of the gift I was given. The gift to unite teens. A gift to help them accept one another and to help them know one another in a whole new way.
After a few minutes of tracing and final details, the girls stepped back, smiled, shared a group hug. The bond was clearly tribal, the reaction was visceral. They could not stop staring at the art, and when silence was lifted the room was filled with excited banter about what they had created. Together. In silence. Silence that spoke volumes.
I asked them later why those words. The girl who told me they’d be loud said, “we just knew that was the message we needed to take with us.”
I heard that, loud and clear. These girls created the message of peace and love in silence, creating calm where before had been chaos. They listened to one another as creativity flowed through the room. Because they needed to take it with them. Such power.
I look at this photo now and think “these words” and my soul stirs. It is this art that speaks so loudly to my heart right now. There are words that our students need. Peace and Love. And the feeling too, joy and acceptance.
I’ve worked with thousands of teens since that day, but I know it is not nearly enough teens. That changes today. Today I begin the School Project, offering a program called Collaborators. A program I have used with RYLA for eight years. A program that works to unite teens.
Today, tomorrow and the day after that I am reaching out to more schools. More churches. More people, to help me give our students what they deserve.
Peace. And love.
And the strength of unity.
If you want to help- if you want to know more- reach out. I’m going to need you.
Let’s make Peace and Love happen in our schools. We can do it, like these girls, together.
Peace and love.
And no more school tears.