Several months ago, Kendrea Todt, a nurse educator from Tennessee, responded to a post that I wrote on Twitter. It was about an article documenting the 26,000 school-aged children who have died by gun violence since 1999. Kendrea had a vision for a public awareness campaign that would use art as a form of social activism to represent the forced absences left from gun violence. Her vision included brightly colored children’s desks to represent those lost to gun violence.
Here is Kendrea’s original message:
Hi Robin, I enjoy your Twitter presence highlighting school health. I like Rutgers University’s placement of empty purple chairs around campus to promote intimate partner/ domestic violence awareness. I think brightly colored children’s desks would highlight our lost children. I think the sight of empty brightly colored desks would be evocative, raising awareness about gun violence. I thought of you and your campaign and wanted to share. -Kendrea Todt
Kendrea’s idea was a stroke of genius. We brainstormed and expanded the idea by using the desks as a method of communication where high school students could create a message about the impact of loss from gun violence, whether in school or community. The voices of the students, especially in this time, must be amplified. #NoMoreEmptyDesks was conceived as an idea, a thought, a collaborative plan.
I reached out to a talented and devoted art teacher, Lisa Wallenburg, who I have worked with in my Camden City School District. Lisa is currently in her 32nd year of teaching art in Camden, and her passion and commitment to the students, the city, the community are unparalleled. Lisa immediately responded with a resounding YES!
Desks are being crafted in Lisa’s art room at Brimm Medical Arts High School in Camden, New Jersey. There are two so far, with much interest for others to be created. I had the pleasure of visiting Lisa and met her student artist, Christian, and personally thanked him for taking on this challenge.
Here is Christian’s work:
Christian’s vision and hope is that this project will go viral – every high school will embrace the project and make it part of their curriculum. He was so proud of his accomplishment that he brought his class advisor to share his story. Christian plans on writing about participating in the project as part of his college essay, and I invited him to join me at an upcoming Board of Education Meeting so that we can share his story with the Board Members.
Christian created a multi-cultural depiction of hands intertwined, symbolizing the prevalence of gun violence across all communities. The rose, a symbol of love and remembrance, was strategically placed as an offering to families of lost students as a message that they are not alone in their grief.
Listen to Christian in his own words describe his experience participating in #NoMoreEmptyDesks, and his teacher, Lisa Wallenburg, who championed this initiative.
My deepest gratitude to Christian and Lisa for making an idea come to life! Watch for updates as the desk is completed and more are created. If you would like information about bringing this project to your school community, let me know! Lisa and I are working on a lesson plan that will align with the National Art Education Standards.
Here is a link to the original blog post that started this movement: https://relentlessschoolnurse.com/2018/08/23/the-relentless-school-nurse-starting-a-movement-through-one-tweet-nomoreemptydesks