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Thursday, February 01, 2007

An Open Letter by Tambra Stevenson

I must set my soul free by being simply me, because ultimately that's all I can be. My soul wouldn't let it be if you know what I mean.

I have been a suppressed artist since I was a child. I have been drawing since I was a child watching PBS and Nickelodeon over my grandma's house in pre-K. I was the kind of child who would pick up the phone and call to submit for the "draw the turtle" art contest as advertised on TV. I was a curious one. So in a University of Oklahoma summer premed program in high school it was no surprise that I received the "Curious George" award. I have the mind of a researcher and the soul of an artist. My art speaks from my soul. Without art I do not speak.
Also as a tot, I distinctly remember ordering children's books by phone. That memory never escaped me. I have been collecting books ever since. Books are filled wisdom captured on every page.

To start my creative process, at first I began drawing animals by tracing in fourth grade. To me tracing was like "riding a bike with training wheels." Eventually I was riding and drawing all on my own. Also art was and still is a form of therapy for me and an outlet for me as an introverted child. I didn't speak much but I did draw and write poetry. My fifth grade teacher encouraged us to write journals; like any child I was reluctant since it was an assignment. But from then, I saw the value and the necessity for me to write in my journal which I have been doing ever since.

I began taking art classes in middle school, high school and college. I entered art and writing contest event considered art school. I even won a 4-year art scholarship and regional writing contest. However with my logical brain, I thought that was foolishness. "What was I to think and do – to be a starving artist? What legacy for my family would I leave it was a broke." Furthermore, I didn't pursue art and writing (also known as my passion) because of the subjectivity whereas the sciences were about objectivity. My fragile ego couldn't take the criticism that's known in the art community. I have gotten better at taking criticism over the years. Also because art supplies were expensive, as a kid I only drew with charcoal pencils on any paper I could find unless they were supplied by art class. Now I can buy my own supplies.

Given my ability to write (which is not the same as editing, I know I am not a great editor of my own work) scholarship essays became easy for me because it was writing which is like kryptonite for some people unfortunately. So as a first generation college student, I had college paid for and stayed in Oklahoma to be near family. As a self-proclaimed 'post-modern day Harriet Tubman,' I was building my railroad out and I didn't see when I was coming back.

Middle school teen years were a turbulent time with family and school. I was a smart, obedient student and child. However I was very depressed and I used art to channel my feelings. I didn't feel good about myself and I didn't think I had no one to turn too. Later realized age fourteen is a peak of egocentricity in one's life and everything seems near and extreme. I learned this through a life span development psychology class in college.

I feel compelled to share my story because I know I am not alone. If it was not for Katrina I would not have allowed my soul to be whole. For me being whole meant for me to fulfill my childhood dreams of art and writing. Instead I suppressed them because I was the oldest, first to attend college, growing up in Oklahoma where I didn't know any artist. I only heard about starving artist. My career dream was to be an illustrator. So I have vicariously lived through meeting other illustrators. I hear the pay can be unstable with art. But even when you have a decent job, "a heart unfulfilled is a life unlived."

How many unlived lives are walking out there? Feeling unproductive on the day job because they are not pursuing their passions? Who are we hurting? I know ourselves, our children (for not being a role model of what it means to be true), and our community (for not showing that we can make a difference just by being true to our passion.) If we don't do it, what is the point of living a human experience? Ultimately I though, we are spiritual creatures living a human experiences. So for the necessity of our spirit we must nourish our soul in order to become whole.

For me Katrina represented the catalyst to change my outlook and change my job, which I did in May 2006. My passion is public service using my fundamental tools of art and writing (advertising, marketing and communications included). So I began a project called Postcards from Katrina. The project began after visiting family in Gulfport, MS where a team of Tufts students and alumni worked with St. James Baptist Church to rebuild homes mostly for the elderly and single mothers. It was a soul revival! I took photography of my experience. I came back to Washington, DC wondering what more can I do. Life came be gone in a flash; why am I not doing what I love? So I began taking art classes at CHAW in acting, painting and creative writing--classes that my former pre-med buddies in college would have minimized or so I thought. But I need it was my own creative arts therapy that birthed art pieces around my experience.

Being trained in health communication (focusing on public health campaigns) from Tufts University School of Medicine/Emerson College, I thought what if we opened the project to the community people could be express in their own images and words what Katrina means to them. That includes art, poetry, music and photography. To stay true to the project we display art as postcards on the online art gallery (which is under development) symbolizing them having a message to share to those who need hope and help. We all can serve as messengers of hope.

So since April 2006 I have been a one woman movement picking up speed and postcards from hundreds of people with the help of volunteers now. I hope to gain more postcards especially from the artist, illustrators and graphic designer community as well.

Also I need a fiscal agent for the project while I apply for nonprofit status to continue the project and expand the Plant Hope TM arts and health campaign, which challenges everyone to plant hope in their children and in communities. Plant Hope has a healthy community initiative addressing youth violence and mental health stigma in minority communities. The initiative promotes the arts as a great healing therapy and communication tool to addressing these issues. So we will have an arts/writing program, contest, and community service projects. I have already received support from Ward 8 and other coalitions in the DC with the goal of expanding to other communities in 2009. I hope you will take the Plant Hope challenge to Have Optimism, Perseverance and Enthusiasm. How are you planting hope today? (Coming Soon!

In 2006 I would have happy hours for a social cause intended for young professionals to learn more about the project and make postcards while mixing and mingling. Also I donated artwork from the project to support other nonprofits like Society for Public Health Education at the Flamingo Hotel and The International Ecotourism Society at the Carnegie Institute.

In 2007 we have a number of free community activities planned. We had a booth at the NBC 4 Health Expo at the Washington Convention Center for parents and children to make postcards and sign the community postcard of hope. We had a "Post Katrina: What Would MLK Do?" teaching nonviolence through the arts workshop where President Bush made an unexpected special appearance to sign postcards. I read my first poem entitled "Who Are We?" to a diverse audience at the 1 st Anniversary Poetry Reading at Busboys and Poets in DC.

And on February 16th we have booth at the National Women's Heart Day health fair to promote art for the heart. And on National Youth Service Day and Earth Day on April 21 st we have a community gardening and art day in Shaw/Howard area. Also I will be making my first art exhibit at the 2nd Annual Women's History Month Exhibition at Peace and a Cup of Joe Café in Baltimore , MD from February 25th to March 3rd. I would have never thought about this opportunity if not for my Soror Sharon of Authentic Art. The project has become a certifying organization to Presidential Volunteer Service Award. I believe community art is serves the community. So we will be tracking donated hours of our volunteers to give out these special awards.

So I am focused on using my research training in making the case for the value of art in health promotion and disease prevention. Europe and the United States have great bodies of examples of making the case. I want DC to make the case!
In pursuit of my passion, I can not do it alone. It took a village to raise me. My mother could not do it alone. So I ask for mentor in the arts/writing nonprofit or business world to continue to nourish my art and understand the printmaking and business of art. Being like a true native Oklahoma and coming from a matriarchal household grounded in the ideology of Booker T Washington, I have learned to be self-sufficient and stubborn. However it would be foolish for me to think I can do it alone.

I hope you find this letter with open arms and uplifting as our souls. I am enthusiastic about art serving as a vessel to heal hearts because of what it has done for me. I am simply feeding my soul; nourishing my God within. As Dr. William Dyer mentioned about the Greek origins of enthusiasm, which is "en theos" translated as the "God within."

Furthermore, if you wish to support the project through donating art, art supplies for the youth workshops, resources (e.g. a scanner for the postcards), volunteering on a committee and/or just giving old fashioned advice or contacts, please contact me at postcardsfromkatrina@gmail .com.

Please visit the website at www.postcardsfromkatrina.c om and subscribe. We [God and his mighty helpers including myself] will have an online art gallery of the postcards submitted by the community at www.postcardsfromkatrina.o rg (under construction)

I believe that there is a right thing at the wrong time is the wrong thing as stated by the ordained minister, Joshua Harris, of Gaithersburg, MD. Art is my thing and now is the time. As my graduate advisor told me that I have "real potential." And now I have realized what my therapist spoke of about "being authentic." Everyone should have a board of advisors for life and you are the CEO of your life. So live your best life starting now. Because being you, being true, is all that you can do! Everything will come together in a full circle if you believe it and try to achieve it.

In the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, "Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm."

In reach of my soul's journey,


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