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Me with students from the University of Pittsburgh holding the mural we painted. Photo: Provided.

Hello everyone,

You know my vision is to paint with more kids and different people, to plant seeds of love and acceptance and to build bridges. That vision wakes me up every single day and keeps me moving forward. So today, I want to share with you the power of a clear vision.

Early on, people told me to reach out to nonprofits. They could provide me with resources to find a wall to paint a mural, I was told. So, I did. I reached out to different nonprofits, one of them being Hello Neighbor – a nonprofit which welcomes refugees to Pittsburgh. They offered me a wall in their headquarters, which I painted with Gisele Federman and “Study Buddy” refugees with their families too. It was a beautiful experience.

Hello Neighbor gave us tickets to the Riverhounds. I went to the game with no plan but with my canvas and paint, wondering what would happen if I asked the players to paint. I saw someone there, and she told me, “You know you’re not just building bridges between people? You are building bridges to God.” I asked her to wish me luck. She prayed for me as I asked the team. They said yes and painted! 

Players from the Pittsburgh Riverhounds soccer club paint one of our “Pittsburgh Builds Bridges” murals. Photo: Provided.

Not all attempts were so successful. I called this nonprofit out of the blue. I asked the lady who answered if I could speak to someone who could help me find a wall to paint. 

“It is a mural with everyone, to bring people together,” I explained. 

She started laughing! “We don't do this,” she told me.  

It was hard for me. I took a deep breath, and then I told her, “No, someone told me you can help me. Please, can I talk to someone?” 

She transferred me to voicemail. The next day, however, I began wondering what would happen if I simply went there. What’s the worst that will happen? So, I went there and I asked the same woman if I could please meet someone and ask them if they can help me find a wall to paint the mural. This time she laughed in front of my face! 

It was really hard, because that never happened to me. I took a deep breath and I told myself “Ebtehal, look at the big picture.” 

“Listen,” I told her. “I knock at doors. If someone opens the door, I walk through. If someone doesn't, I find another door to knock on.” She stopped laughing and told me she would find someone for me to talk to. 

I talked to that someone for 45 minutes.

Me with others painting at Hello Neighbor. Photo: Provided.

As everyone knows, Fred Rogers welcomed everyone. He was so kind, and he is beloved to Pittsburgh. So I thought "What if I went to WQED – the local PBS station behind “Mister Roger’s Neighborhood” – and shared the story with them?" I met someone in education, and I shared the story about the wall. She agreed to share my story.

I started looking at Daniel Tiger, the beloved children’s character, and I asked her about making an episode of “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood” to teach kids about building bridges. She was unable to help me there, but she did agree to pass on my information to the appropriate party. 

The next day, I didn't receive any email. So, I found out who the executive director of Fred Rogers Productions, the non-profit behind the “Mister Roger’s” franchises, and sent him an email. I called too, leaving a message. Still, no answer.

Determined to meet the executive director, I went there. Having seen his picture, I knew who I was looking for. I parked the car and started walking toward the building, and there he was – walking outside the building! I met him face-to-face, and I shared my story. He thanked me for telling him about my mural and the message behind it, and he promised to reach back out to me. He hasn’t yet, but I believe in divine time and divine order. I know I met him for a reason, and I have faith he will be in touch with me.

I had more luck another time. I saw that the female Olympic hockey teams from the United States and Canada were both going to be in Pittsburgh to play a game at the PPG Paints Arena. It happened to be March, which is Women’s History Month, so I thought it would be great if we could celebrate women by having them paint a mural of the bridge between Detroit, in the United States, and Windsor, in Canada – the Ambassador Bridge. 

I sent an email, but no one got back to me. Undeterred, I went with the canvas and brushes in the hopes that they would participate. A man there told me that the U.S. team was going to sign autographs for the fans, which I thought was great – this was my opportunity. However, I was told that no one had access to the Canadian team and that they were going to leave after the game. I talked to several people there at the arena and everyone had the same answer. 

Everyone, that is, except one. She suggested I go up to the glass after the game and talk to the Canadian coach. Others there told me that there is no way that I could talk to the Canadian coach, but I decided to believe in possibility. At the end of the game I went to the glass and raised the canvas up. The players started coming out, and I told them that this bridge is the bridge between Canada and the United States. 

“Will you bring us together?” I asked. 

Natalie Spooner was the first to say yes. I got her and another player to paint! That was a valuable lesson. Keep on moving. Keep on believing no matter what anyone says. If you have that vision and passion in your heart, there will always be a way.

 

Hockey player Natalie Spooner paints my “Pittsburgh Builds Bridges” mural. Photo: Provided.

As I shared before with you, when I was at Market Square and drew the first canvas, The Incline – a local news website, wrote about it. Carlow University saw that story and reached out to me. They wanted to paint with their students. So, I painted there at Carlow University and also at their campus laboratory school. After that, Pittsburgh University saw it and wanted me to do the same thing. This was soon followed by Penn State University, Point Park University and Carnegie Mellon University.

To this day I still sketch the bridge on each of my murals. People, however, are the ones who paint it – bringing together all walks of life to create a work of community art. Every time someone paints, I ask them how they build bridges in their own lives. “My medium is art,” I say. “What’s your medium to continue having this ripple effect in the community?” 

As of now, 3300 people have painted these murals – and this is just the beginning! My vision is to paint at more schools and with more people, not just in Pittsburgh but across the whole nation. I want to bring people from all different walks of life together, reminding them that we have more in common.

Let's continue building bridges together.

Sincerely,

Ebtehal Badawi 

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