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Unity Through Creativity Articles

The climate mural unveiling was timed to coincide with climate change protests from around the world. Students from the U.S. and around the globe have skipped classes and raised awareness about what climate change will mean for their generation. The United Nations also held a Youth Summit on Sept. 21 to talk with global leaders and come up with possible solutions.

The students worked on the mural in the Spring of 2019, and they put it up in the fall. The Singing Tree Mural is part of the Singing Tree Mural Project, an on-going international mural series of 80 murals so far made with 19,500 people from 52 countries. The mural honors four trees: the oak, the redwood, the madrone and willow, and includes Mother Earth crying and animals from the area like the Monarch Butterfly.

The bottom of the mural shows nature thriving with plants and animals, while one of the trees is a female figure saying no to climate change and working to educate girls about stewardship of the Earth. Other themes include plant-based diets, food waste, the hope of youth, and alternative energy. People can also buy small prints of the mural for $20, and it costs $10 for students. Email for more information.

Artists and project leader Laurie Marshall gave them the structure of the mural, and the students expanded the structure and came up with the design of having four trees and other parts of the mural. They also used the Top 10 climate solutions from Project Drawdown, a research organization that identifies the best global climate solutions, and used that to generate imagery. Marshall was proud of the unique representation the students came up with and the ways to communicate it.

“I’m so proud of how they let in the information, which has been painful, about what’s going on with the Earth and how the Earth is suffering,” Marshall said.

Artist Lili Lopez helped the students work on the mural and was proud to see that their hard work created a beautiful mural. She said that although the students were at first shy around each other, they worked together to come up with different ideas.

“No matter what environment or what school or what issues schools have, that longing for community and working together, it always overpowers whatever is happening,” Lopez said.

The students from the AP French class and French 3 class also collaborated about their fears of climate change to write this poem:

The Earth is slowly dying

But nobody is crying

This Earth is our mother; it takes care of us,

It is time to do our part, and be conscientious

The Earth does not belong to us; we belong to it

The least we could do is take action and admit

We can’t turn away from what we’ve done

Our carbon is burning and blocking the sun

We always want to have it all

But grab too much and down we’ll fall

The Earth is slowly dying

But nobody is crying

We should care for the Earth and not push her away

For she needs us now yet we roam astray

Only after the climate’s warmed and the icebergs melt

Will humanity’s horrible impact finally be felt

One easy answer is composting food waste.

Let’s return the food to the soil, its original state.

The sun is also a powerful solution

Zero carbon, and a positive evolution

Education is our best tool to bring awareness

Girls, boys, women, men, let’s stop being careless

Because the Earth is slowly dying

But almost nobody is crying

When will we learn that our actions have consequences

We should fight for clean air and stop sitting on benches

The youth are starting to understand that notion

Everyone applauds to their efforts and motivation

We must all unite and fight for the common cause

Together we can, together we have claws

By Curtis Driscoll | | Ukiah Daily Journal
PUBLISHED: September 25, 2019 at 3:40 pm | UPDATED: September 26, 2019 at 12:40 pm

September 26, 2019

Ukiah High students unveil Singing Tree of Climate Solutions mural

The students in the classes of Biology and French for Ukiah High teacher Eveline Rodriguez are researching and depicting the top 10 solutions to climate change in a mural with the help of artist Laurie Marshall, who works to help students in schools across the Bay Area bring attention to social issues through art.
Climate change is of grave concern right now for life on the planet, and most solutions need humans to bring down carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. CO2 levels just reached 415 parts per million for the first time in Earth’s history earlier this month, and scientists say there is a correlation between higher temperatures on Earth and rising CO2 levels.

According to a recent United Nations report, humans are putting around 1 million species of plants and animals in danger of extinction in the coming decades. Food and water security, human health, and economic instability are all likely to become more significant issues as the effects of climate change occur.
The top 10 solutions represented in the mural are based on the recommendations of Project Drawdown. Project Drawdown, a nonprofit founded in 2014 by environmentalist Paul Hawken, is a climate advocacy organization that offers solutions on its website to different aspects of climate change. It lists the top 10 solutions as refrigerant management, more wind turbines, reducing food waste, plant-rich diet, tropical forest restoration, education for girls, family planning, solar farms, the farming practice of Silvopasture, and more solar rooftops. The nonprofit also provides solutions based on sectors like electricity generation, food, women and girls, building and cities, land use, materials and transportation.

The mural is not the first that Marshall and students from Ukiah High School have worked on together. In 2017, students worked on the Manzanita Singing Tree of Kindness mural, which explored ways that students could provide acts of kindness and how it could help improve relationships. The new one will go next to the Manzanita mural and will be made using the same techniques.
The students learned about techniques like three-dimensional painting, how to paint the background of the mural first, adding different layers on top of each other, and how to design and complete a mural art project.
“We had these great conversations, and then the kids came up with a design that contains both the grief of this time and the hope,” Marshall said.

When the students finish the mural, kids from other science classes at the school will glue renderings of leaves and birds onto the final layer. The leaves will have answers to the question of what solution to climate change captures your imagination, or what action are you going to take. The birds will include answers about what the students wish for in regard to climate change. Around 350 kids will participate in total.
“They are very worried, and they want ideas for action. They don’t want what’s politically possible; they want what needs to be done,” Marshall said.

As part of the mural design, it will include an oak tree, redwood tree, willow tree and the Pacific madrone tree. They are also honoring the monarch butterfly and will have a pregnant woman with the Earth inside her as well as a gas mask to represent education for girls and family planning. The Singing Tree Mural will also address issues of pollution, the lack of time left, and the hope for the future of the Earth.
The students hope to be finished by the end of next week and possibly have an unveiling ceremony on May 28. Their goal is to have the project completed over a short stretch to demonstrate that many people can work together quickly to achieve something.

Eveline Rodriguez says that her goal is to try and have her classes next year also get the opportunity to create new murals if she can find the funds. The Manzanita Singing Tree mural focused on kindness while this mural message deals with citizenship and the different effects of climate change. She hopes that working together to create art and the themes of the murals will stay engrained with students for the rest of their lives.
“I think it’s important because it leaves a memory, and it stays there,” Rodriguez said. “Some of these students who are freshman are going to see it for four years and are going to have an investment in it. So I’m hoping that it will be a reminder of what we talked about in class and what we can do.”

By Curtis Driscoll | | Ukiah Daily Journal
PUBLISHED: May 18, 2019 at 4:08 pm | UPDATED: May 18, 2019 at 4:10 pm

May 18, 2019

Students at Ukiah High working on mural focused on climate change

Westglades Middle School in Parkland, Florida coped with the first anniversary of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on February 14, 2019. There is nothing more humbling than facing the grief and helplessness that arises from the act of murder of innocent people. The shooter had gone to the middle school for three years. The staff had worried about him, but he slipped through the cracks.

Many of the students who died had gone to the middle school as well. One high school student had visited, Deborah Golding, her middle school art teacher, the week before the shooting. She came to tell Ms. Golding what a great teacher she was. And then her young life was over. Ms. Golding could not contain her tears as she told me the story.

Building Peace Through Art
I facilitated the 75th Singing Tree mural through the help of De Palazzo, Safe Schools Director at Equality Florida and a private benefactor. The Singing Tree™ Project is an international collaborative mural project the incorporates Peace Building Through Art, inspired by Nature. Each mural envisions healing of heartbreak and creates a shared vision of success.

A Collaborative Image Dedicated to Love
At Westglades Middle School, 350 art and drama students creatively processed their community’s nightmare together by making a collaborative image dedicated to love. The principal, Matthew Bianchi, was under pressure to have the middle school locked down on the anniversary of the shooting. The Broward County School District is entangled in law suits for negligence, because they failed to prevent the massacre which left 17 people injured and 17 people dead.

Only one-third of the students attended school on the first year anniversary. The rest of the students were home with their families or participating in memorial ceremonies at the high school.

The Lead Design Team and The Equality Club
Principal Bianchi, with support from art teacher Ms. Golding, chose to have the students work together outside on the Mangrove Singing Tree of Love – expressing themselves instead of being shut inside the classroom.

The Lead Design Team of the project was six students from the Equality Club – a gay-straight alliance which supports LGBTQ students. As facilitator, I incorporated the club members’ ideas for the mural, including the Mangrove Tree and its roots, a peace symbol, diamonds and stars in the sky, hanging flags that symbolize different sexualities, a rainbow earth where differences are celebrated, figures in the trees and nested hearts. The Equality Club ‘s vision served as inspiration for their school, which increased the status of this oft-bullied group.

As the students worked, they spoke tangentially of the massacre. They expressed their sadness on this tragic day and how glad they were to be outside, to be together, to be using their hands, to be immersed in color, to be making decisions, to be creative, to solve problems in a finite space, to invite their classmates to add their artwork, to connect, to touch the wall, to touch the paint.

A Symbol of Strength and Diversity
Westglades principal, Matthew Bianchi, said of the project, “The mural is beautiful and a powerful symbol of strength and diversity. The painting of the mural was therapeutic to our students who are healing from the tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas. It will be a constant reminder of the resolve our community has.”

You can see a short slide show of the process of making this tribute to love and resilience.  The goal is to create soul strengthening imagery to deal with the heartbreak of gun violence and young death, transforming pain into beauty. The project strives to help prevent violence, to create a world where every child knows they belong, they have purpose, they have meaning, they are unique and they are loved.

February 10, 2019

Turning Pain into Beauty by Laurie Marshall

The project was inspired by award-winning children’s author Kate Seredy’s story of a World War I battle during which Hungarian soldiers crawled all night through total desolation. When they reached safety, there was one tree still standing, and hundreds of birds of varying species were singing together, birds that do not naturally do so, creating a unique and beautiful song.
In 1999, that story inspired an 8-year-old girl to wonder what would happen if people from all over the world, from different backgrounds and traditions, came together to make something beautiful like the birds’ song. She asked, “What if the whole world made a painting together?”
Today, a forest of “Singing Tree” paintings have been created by almost 12,000 people worldwide, according to Laurie Marshall, co-founder of the Singing Tree project. Each painting explores a theme and honors the essential role trees play in human life.
This project came to Ukiah after UHS teacher Eveline Rodriguez attended a summer seminar where Marshall shared information about her project. With support from fellow MESA teacher Sezgin Ramirez and MESA director Matt Sweeney, Rodriguez enlisted their MESA students in an ambitious project to create the 49th singing tree mural.
The name of the Ukiah High tree is the Manzanita Singing Tree of Kindness, and in it, students use art to explore questions such as, “What is a memorable act of kindness that you received or gave?” and “Is there someone you were unkind to whose trust you need to restore?”
Marshall coordinated the project, coming to Ukiah on Dec. 5, 12 and 19. She asked students to draw their visions of kindness and she incorporated those visions into a final mural design. She then encouraged project participants to invite students outside the MESA class to decorate the manzanita tree by creating leaves where they shared their ideas about kindness.
Rodriguez said, “Almost 50 MESA students were involved, and everyone had a role. We had committees responsible for preparing the leaves, for creating instructions so others could participate, for painting the mural, for figuring out where to display it once it’s done, and many others.”
The project not only produced a beautiful work of art, it incorporated several academic subjects, as well as enhancing students’ social and emotional development.
MESA students learned about the role of manzanita trees in local ecology. They used mathematics to create the grid to enlarge the master design, and they used engineering to design and build the free-standing mural with the help of the woodshop students.
They also used communication skills as they collaborated with classmates and invited others to participate by adding to the mural or documenting the project for the yearbook. Students expanded their social and emotional learning as they explored kindness; and finally, they used creative expression as they produced unique images that reflected their personal understanding of kindness.
Rodriguez said she was pleased so many colleagues chose to have their classes participate.
“More than a dozen teachers from many different departments got involved, like English, psychology, PE, science, art, independent study, special education, and foreign language,” she said.
Part of the project included more than contemplating kindness: students who shared memorable acts of kindness were encouraged to continue to practice those acts, and students who shared stories about needing to restore trust or apologize were encouraged to follow up and make amends.
“For the students who participated, I think this project created awareness about kindness, and how important it is. I also think it gave them hope. It showed them they can make changes when they believe in themselves. We did this project in three weeks. We can do so much more when we work together.”
To learn more about the Singing Tree project, visit Marshall and co-founder Lili Lopez also work with an international non-profit whose mission is peace-building through art (
By Ukiah Daily Journal | |
PUBLISHED: January 23, 2018 at 12:00 am | UPDATED: August 23, 2018 at 12:00 am (used with permission)

August 23, 2018

Ukiah High School collaborates with artists worldwide to spread message of kindness

February 11, 2014

Art as Peace Building by Laurie Marshall

Sam Laidig knows the ropes of being homeless. He knows which public bathrooms and parks are the cleanest and which coffee or doughnut shops open the earliest. He’s become a pro at staying awake all night to guard his belongings.
He is 19 and one of the estimated 2,600 homeless youth in Marin County – one of the nation’s wealthiest regions.
“I hope that I’m a post-homeless youth of Marin,” Laidig said with a wry laugh as he worked on a mural intended to depict a rosier future. “I spent the last few nights in a park bathroom in San Rafael, but I think I just found a place to live.”
Laidig is part of a mural project organized by two Marin County nonprofits, Ambassadors of Hope and Opportunity, and Unity Through Creativity, and supported by organizations including the Marin Museum of Contemporary Art. Two days a week through July and August, youths gather in a home in San Rafael to paint, and to share their stories. They talk about what they’ve been through, and what they’d like for the future.
There are teenagers who are homeless or at risk of being homeless, and there are high school students who are involved because they want to make a difference and help a hidden population. The homeless and at-risk youth are paid for their work on the mural.
“It’s a community-wide mural project called ‘The Seasons of Hope Singing Tree,’ ” said Zara Babitzke, the founder of Ambassadors of Hope and Opportunity, an organization begun to create a safety net of housing and guidance. “It’s for this overlooked or forgotten youth population.”
Babitzke’s program helps youth ages 16 to 25 who are “push outs,” abandoned by their parents, or who have “absent parents,” parents who are unable to parent because of mental illness, incarceration or drug or alcohol dependency. The program provides emergency shelter, rooms with host families or apartments with peers. It also links youth to jobs, scholarships for college, counseling, and legal and medical aid.
“I envisioned the whole community coming together as ambassadors of hope and opportunity for young people without families,” she said, as a group of teenagers painted and others created leaves and birds to be placed on the painted limbs.
Babitzke partnered with Unity Through Creativity’s Laurie Marshall, who started engaging at-risk youth in art in 1999, and over the years has spearheaded the creation of 24 murals, with four 8-by-8-foot freestanding panels showing the same tree in four seasons. The finished murals are expected to go on a traveling exhibition to nearly two dozen Marin County schools and other organizations.
Kaila McDonald, who is 21 and formerly homeless, serves as the program director for Ambassadors of Hope and Opportunity.
“I became homeless at 17 when I was taken out of my home by child protective services,” said McDonald, who attends UC Berkeley. “We are not as visible as the adult homeless because we are couch surfing and we sleep in cars. I slept in my car. I was working three jobs. I just wanted to go to college. I was helped by Zara and her program.”
Laidig, working nearby, said, “Being a part of this is great. I get to do art, which I haven’t really had the chance to do. The sentiment is good. It’s nice to be around people who care.”
Article write by Julian Guthrie, San Francisco Chronicle, Aug 17, 2012 (used with permission)

UTC is no longer involved with Ambassadors of Hope and Opportunity (AHO) due to their discrepancies and malpractice.

August 17, 2012

Marin’s homeless youth get a hand – ART Mural project gives Marin’s homeless youth a hand – and a paintbrush

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