When friends collide... murals for the babies with Spoke Context

Me and Principal Lena Gates in the PS5 courtyard -- plotting and scheming the Spoke Context workshop. #blackgirlmagic.

Me and Principal Lena Gates in the PS5 courtyard -- plotting and scheming the Spoke Context workshop. #blackgirlmagic.

I have some amazing friends. And that's not an understatement. My circle consists of artists, activists, principals, Ph.D. candidates, professors, government leaders... it's hard to explain just how inspired I am by these people and I'm blessed to call them family. 

So naturally, when my amazing friend, Elif Ucan, was looking for a school with big external walls to paint with her globally renowned artists and asked for my help, I was down. Let me back up. Elif and I met in grad school, and we were both in the Special Studies Program at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. That's a fancy way of saying "the program for people who don't fit into a program." It attracts us weirdos, outcasts, and generally the non-conformed. Elif is half Turkish, half American, and a New Yorker to boot. We were soul mates in a NY minute. After school, Elif launched Spoke, which is a super-chic, urban-bike-culture-accessories-and-more company [these are my words, per my perspective watching her launch this thing from the ground-up]. Elif has a long background in fashion (and law, and business... I mean, she does everything). She creates the patterns for her bike gear (think: sleek-waterproof-riding-cape-meets-badass-safety-reflective-material) by collaborating with urban artists to paint murals in the world's biggest cities. She then turns those murals into clothing patterns, so that her customers can "be one with the streets in which they ride." Uh. Yes. Someone does this for a living.

Fast forward. Elif launched Spoke Context, the non-profit arm of Spoke. Context's whole jam is to take Spoke artists and pair them with schools (!!!!!!!!), and deliver an interactive workshop with kids to teach them about urban art, while beautifying their school's walls. In other words, kids get to meet famous artists and make cool art and spray paint their school. When she called me a few weeks ago to ask if I knew of any schools in Brooklyn, we immediately went on a bike tour of my school network in Bushwick and Bed-Stuy. When she saw my favorite school, PS5, she fell in love. Honestly, I kind of didn't notice they had this enormous courtyard with a ton of space for mural painting until I went with Elif. We scheduled a meeting two days later with Principal Gates, and I'm so excited to announce that we'll be collaborating with PS5 to paint the external walls of their schools with two Turkish artists for Earth Day. 

YES, YES, YES. Yes to Elif and her passion. Yes to the kids getting exposed to new cultures and urban art. Yes to a dope principal who says "yes, and what do we need to do to make this happen?" Yes to purpose. Yes to relationships. Yes to friendship. 

Now, on to this project. We're doing it up: EARTH DAY THE BROOKLYN WAY....a complete block-party style event with the kids, families, local businesses, and the larger Bed-Stuy community. This is what life is about (and it's also what I went to school for). We'll be posting live from Spoke's Instagram account: @spokeofficial on Friday, April 22. Of course, I'll be covering the re-cap here. 

But for now: be encouraged. Look at your circle of friends. Pick someone you admire. Build something together. Grow together. Serve your community. Get your hands dirty. Make us proud.

Janelle BechdolComment