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Study of The EOBA Oak Singing Tree of Strength and Happiness

“You are stronger than you think”

Dear Friends of Unity Through Creativity,

On September 28, two gunmen entered the King Estates School Complex, home to three high schools in Oakland, California, and opened fire. Six people were shot; one of those died In mid- November.

Later that day, after school, the children of the East Oakland Boxing Association (EOBA) gathered to begin work on The Singing Tree of Strength and Happiness, a two-mural project partnering with the Albany (CA) Middle School. The children at EOBA met in a circle, and shared what was on their minds - the shooting and gratitude that they were still alive. Several of the students had siblings at the King Estates Complex and were worried that their family members might have gotten shot. The children talked about struggling to cope with the violence that can be a part of life on any day. Then one girl broke into the worry and concern and said:

“You are stronger than you think.”

The students began work on a Singing Tree Mural, a community arts project that brings people together to create peace and to address the challenges that face our communities.

You are stronger than you think. This is the message we would like to send you today as well, from our hearts and from the hearts of the children of EOBA, as the challenging days of winter are upon us and we approach the holidays with the echo of the violence of the Oakland shooting in our ears.

You are stronger than you think. The Unity Through Creativity Foundation, and its flagship Singing Tree™ Mural Project exist to demonstrate that all of us, individually and together, are stronger than we think. From California to Cumbria to Cyprus, thirteen Singing Trees have been created this year, bringing together diverse people to address common challenges that include reintegrating from Covid, devastating fires, racial prejudice, the crises of forced mass emigration, and war.

It is our privilege to partner with the East Oakland Boxing Association, a 35 year-old non-profit serving a community in the San Francisco Bay area of California surrounded by pollution, industrial buildings and illegal dumping, and with the Albany (CA) Middle School students who go to school in a relatively affluent, culturally diverse, middle-class environment, to create The Singing Tree of Strength and Happiness. By bringing these two groups of students into contact with each other, we expand the listening of everyone to include aspects of humanity they might never meet otherwise.

Both halves of this project create a space for young people—the people who will begin to lead in the next twenty years—to use their voice to express what gives them the strength and cultivate happiness in an unpredictable and violent world.

We are grateful to all of you who have given in support of The Singing Tree of Strength and Happiness as well as the other twelve Singing Trees we have completed during 2022. And we send you joy and happiness as 2022 draws to a close. The coming year holds much promise as well as challenges that are still unknown to us. We can meet them together because we are stronger than we think.

With much love,

Laurie and the team at UTC

The Oak Singing Tree of Strength and Happiness, 8' x 12', Albany Middle School, Albany, California

Updated: Dec 21, 2022

Dear Friends of the Singing Tree™ Project,

I need your help so that Unity Through Creativity can keep serving the world with its peacebuilding efforts.

“The greatest thing about making the Singing Tree mural was the deep sense of community that developed as we went along. … I saw kids working together who don’t normally choose to be together, and I saw so much kindness.”

This year has seen a great intensification of our work. We have had 13 Singing Trees in progress, most of them completed and a number still in progress. You can see the full year’s work here.

With your support, our work is making a difference throughout the United States and across the world, in places such as Cyprus, Uganda, Japan, and England.

One of the most important events for us was our first in-person event in El Paso, Texas, where we organized a celebration of the International Day of Peace with our partner, the Interfaith Alliance of the Southwest. Please watch the video below to get a taste of this joyful event.

With the El Paso community, we created the Nectarine Singing Tree of Peace. Over 120 people attended the event, marked by addresses by Pastor Mike Grady and Prof. Neema Soratgar and featuring such local artists as Grupo Folklórico Valle del Sol, featured in the video.

I learned that if we could come together to make a mural in a short time, then we could come together to change global warming.

If we can come together to make a Singing Tree mural, we can come together to do anything—this is the lesson people are taking from the Singing Tree Project.

What the world needs right now is people—children, youth, and adults—experiencing that each individual’s voice matters and that what they do can impact their own lives, the lives of their communities, and the entire world. With your help, we will launch into 2023 and extend our work of bringing empowerment to thousands of people around the world and the confidence that they matter and can bring about change and peace. Please—join us in our work and give generously.

With many thanks, Laurie Founder and President

A work in progress with 3rd -12th graders at East Oakland Boxing Association, with Certified Singing Tree™ Facilitator Leslie Rein

Unity Through Creativity Foundation and the Interfaith Alliance of the Southwest hosted a celebration of the International Day of Peace Keystone Heritage Park and Botanical Garden on Sept. 21st, 2022. It was attended by 120 people. This event was part of over 4500 celebrations of the 40th anniversary of this international holiday.

The Unity Through Creativity (UTC) Foundation is a visual arts organization dedicated to bringing connection, compassion, and creativity to address discord in community. The Singing Tree™ Mural Project is UTC’s flagship program, with over 110 murals completed over the last 20 years.

The Interfaith Alliance of the Southwest is part of the nationwide Interfaith Alliance. The Interfaith Alliance seeks to offer opportunities to promote mutual understanding and respect through education and dialogue. They are celebrating their tenth anniversary on the evening of Sunday, Oct. 23rd.

Grandma Bea Villegas and Maria Cadillo hold the opening ceremony. Photo by Patricia Delgado

The International Day of Peace featured nine speakers and performers and 18 vendors. Television and radio broadcaster Monica Gomez emceed. Grandma Beatriz Villegas gave the ceremonial opening to the day. The speakers included:

• Neema Soratgar, a guest Scholar in Women Studies at University of Texas in El Paso, spoke about her experience narrowly escaping with her children from Afghanistan in 2021. She was the first woman to drive in Afghanistan in 2001 when the Taliban first fell and carried the Afghanistan flag in the Olympics in 2004.

• The Rev. Michael Grady spoke about "Ending Racism, Building Peace" and the recovery of his daughter from the Walmart massacre in August, 2019.

• Jacklyn Correan, 16, of Loretto High School, won the essay contest sponsored by Unity Through Creativity and the Interfaith Alliance. She read her essay, "One Must Work AtIt", about Eleanor Roosevelt's writing of the Declaration of Human Rights.

• Bettina Escudero led a guided meditation, accompanied by the cello playing of ProMusica.

• Laurie Marshall, the founder of Unity Through Creativity and the Singing Tree Mural Project, spoke about the neurobiology of creating peace.

• Fernanda Lugo led the attendees in Yoga throughout the day.

• Young Tigua men shared the Eagle dance, and the Grupo Folklorico Valle del Sol invited everyone to join in the dancing.

• The day closed with songs of Anna Maria Rosales, a native of El Paso whose works have been featured on Grey's Anatomy.

Nectarine Singing Tree Mural of Peace in process. Photo by Laurie Marshall

Other presenters and vendors included Rainbow Borderland; Pax Christi; the Veterans’ Administration Care Giver Support;Annunciation House; Abara Frontera; Quakers of El Paso;The League of Women Voters; Dialogue Institute Southwest; Volar (serving those who are differently-abled), and the St. Columban Mission for Justice, Peace and Ecology, who sold handbags embroidered by women trapped in Juarez; the Desert Bloom Healing Collective; and artist Pamela Vigo Sanchez.

Raindrop Turkish House contributed meals to all the vendors and offered Turkish savory and sweet food to the public.

Participants expressed surprise at the number of peacebuilding organizations that are working in the El Paso area. Takeaways included:

• There are many amazing, interconnected organizations in El Paso working towards Peace.

People who attended commented,: “I loved meeting many positive, committed, serious and fun-loving people.” “ It gives me hopefulness for peace in this city and in the world.”

“I need to become aware of my local charities and pick some to be active in.””All different communities came together for good and to make a difference..”

Women trapped in Juarez make handbags sold by St. Columban Mission.

The attendees identified these issues now confronting El Paso that can be addressed through the peacebuilding effort of Unity Through Creativity, the Interfaith Alliance, and the other many peacebuilding organizations in and around El Paso:

• Racism and prejudice

• Food deserts (areas devoid of groceries stores)

• Housing instability

• Environmental degradation

• Distribution of wealth and opportunity

• Migration

• Gender equity