By Gwen Garth
I am an artist by Divine design and a community activist by choice. When beginning this journey, I really had no fears; my bottom line was to not just sit there but to do something. I just did not know where to start and how I was going to accomplish the vision I had in mind. So I put a prayer out into the universe asking for help and about 3 days later a friend brought me a postcard announcing a Neighborhood Connection event featuring Lily Yeh, an artist who has been creating parks in abandoned lots in Philadelphia. I was very moved and strongly influenced at that gathering.
I now have 17 years of recovery from my addiction to alcohol and drugs (which has been more a discovery process for me than a recovery process). In about my 11th year of recovery/discovery I was finding that just going to church, AA meetings, work, and school was not enough food for my soul. As I looked at my neighborhood, I found that just sitting back and watching made me still a part of the problem. I was yearning to find and/or work for and in a solution. So I stepped outside of my house and myself and used my artistic skills and talents to become involved in my community. I spearheaded a community mural project and from that another world was opened up to me.
I am the founder of Kings & Queens of Art, which is a grassroots collaboration of artists of all disciplines with special focus on artists from the re-entry sector--- presently and/or formerly incarcerated. Kings & Queens of Art’s mission is to build a network of artists and resources that supports a vibrant arts environment, in a neighborhood context. Our vision is to be a catalyst for transforming community through the celebration of the arts and African-American history and culture. Within the next 5 years, as a catalyst for social engagement that leads to political & spatial change, we will instigate the creation of an arts and cultural community in Ward 5.
To evolve to where I am, I believe the spirits of Harriet Tubman and Councilwoman Fannie Lewis run through me. Stevie Wonder is a source of inspiration, as are local people like Yvonne Pointer, Jan Thrope, Councilwoman Cleveland, State Senator Sandra Williams, my Neighborhood Connections family, and all people, no matter what color, who stand for what’s right. Young people who are carrying on the work put my mind at ease. The laughter of children refreshes my spirit. My love for art, social justice, and my passion for people keep me getting up in the morning.
To be a person of purpose you must begin by simply doing what you are passionate about. You must have perseverance. I found this definition that I really like and I have it hanging on my wall: “Perseverance: the ability to maintain a course of action in spite of counterinfluences, opposition or discouragement: Steadfast”. You must love yourself and show others integrity. Possessing self-knowledge is key. Go within often because if you don’t, you will go without. Knowing what you were born to do and what your purpose is isn’t always clear but important to pursue. Being able to exhibit humility along with a sense of humor and knowing how to laugh at yourself are also important. But the most important attribute to being a person of purpose is not to be afraid to start again.
"Change will not come if we wait for some other person, or if we wait for some other time. We are the ones we've been waiting for. We are the change that we seek." ---Barack Obama, Feb. 5, 2008
For more information on Kings and Queens of Art visit the Art Palace page or email Gwen for more info at firstname.lastname@example.org.