The Courage to Be

Art project at Pittsburgh Pride invites community participation

Concept sketch of the COURAGE art project

The Awareness and Wellness Center (AWC), Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Pittsburgh, Bear Lee Crafting, Creative Reuse, Artist and Craftsman Supply, and Proud Haven invite you to create art on giant letters expressing what COURAGE means to you during the Pittsburgh Pride Revolution Festival. The COURAGE project will be activated June 2nd between 1 pm and 7 pm and June 3rd between 11 am and 9 pm on the festival grounds in Allegheny Commons Park West on the Northside.  Look for giant three-dimensional letters spelling out COURAGE under the shade of the trees. There you will find a buffet of colorful, glittery art supplies waiting for you.

In the current political climate, many of us are experiencing existential anxiety. The ACLU has tracked 469 anti-LGBTQ bills in the United States. While not all of these bills have been passed, many of them are in legislation right now. Many aspects of our lives are targeted: public accommodations, schools and education, free speech and expression, “accurate” IDs, civil rights, healthcare, and other anti-LGBTQ bills. Many of the bills target our most vulnerable community members, including queer and trans youth, trans women of color, folx with dis/abilities, those struggling with housing instability, and others. Responding to these attacks takes courage.

Lyndsey Sickler, the Executive Director of Proud Haven believes, “the most courageous thing we can do is to show up authentically as ourselves, every day.” Hannah Waechter, The LGBT+ Big Siblings Program Coordinator for Big Brothers Big Sisters shares that, “Courage, to me, is being able to show up as your authentic self despite the criticisms of those around you and become a better person for it. It is important to show strength and support in the face of oppression.”   The Practice Director of AWC, Carlos Golfetto, shares that when life knocks you down, “Courage reaches out its hand from within you to help you stand up again – each and every time stronger.” 

As the third generation of queer people in my family I have heard many stories of our queer history. I am grateful for our courageous predecessors who advocated for our community and fought for the rights we have currently. We have many more rights than we did 50 years ago, or even 10 years ago.  But with these advances has come backlash. Dena Stanley, founder of TransYOUniting reminds us, “Stand fearless as your authentic self.  Look fear in the face and say you will not win.  I am strong, and my light shines bright because our ancestors taught me how to fight.”  We need to tap into our collective courage to fight the battles we are going through now and the ones that lie ahead. Our ancestors did it and now it is our time.  

Using art for social justice has always been a passion of mine.  As an Art Therapist, I have experienced how art has the power to heal and transform both individual lives and whole communities. Local drag performer Lynnae O’Connor, an alum of the Seton Hill University Undergraduate Art Therapy Program shares, “Through art you can find your voice, find your passions, and find a like-minded community of people who support not only your work but also your vision.  Art has the power to bring communities together and honor those who once did. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you love, art touches everything in this world and to be able to use art as a means to heal and strengthen is one of the most beautiful experiences and gifts we are allotted in this life.”

For the June 2nd and 3rd event we collaborated with local woodworker Levi March, owner of Bear Lee Crafting, to construct giant 6-foot, three-dimensional letters to spell out the word ‘COURAGE’.  Levi designed the letters in Brutalist style, sharing that, “it is a great depiction of the combination of strength and beauty and their existence in each other.  The courage to be beautiful and the strength to do it in a world that keeps trying to tell you to do it in a more ‘traditional way’.” The style of the letters reflects the courage required to be authentic and to reject being forced to conform to heteronormative or cisnormative values.  

We have many strengths as a community. On June 2nd and 3rd join us as we loudly and proudly celebrate our collective courage. Together we will face adversity and discrimination as we share our love and support for ourselves and for each other.

After Pride, there will be an opportunity to purchase the art. All the proceeds from the sale will be donated to the local trans shelter and community center Proud Haven. If interested, please contact me at Jennifer.Rozell-Whitaker@AWCPittsburgh.com

Jennifer Rozell-Whitaker is a local Psychotherapist, Art Therapist and Clinical Supervisor at the Awareness and Wellness Center (AWC) in Wilkinsburg. They are also an alum and current adjunct professor in the Seton Hill University Art Therapy Program. Jennifer Rozell-Whitaker identifies as neuroqueer and nonbinary. They practice therapy from a social justice, gender affirming, neurodivergent affirming humanistic perspective.