April is Child Abuse Prevention Month. Typically, blue flags, pinwheels, and original artwork curated by Renée Schneider at ArtWorks-Orlando would cover almost every surface at Orlando REP. What does the color blue and the pinwheel represent? The color and images work to raise awareness about this devastating reality in our community and beyond. In a time of social distancing, unfortunately, this issue only becomes more pronounced.
So, how do the arts and specifically visual art, create a way for young people to tell their stories, take back their stories, and raise awareness about these issues? ArtWorks and Edgewood Children’s Ranch are doing just that with their annual self-portrait project. With funding provided by the Winter Garden Art Association and in partnership with The Howard Phillips Center for Children & Families, ArtWorks uses visual art projects like these to encourage students to explore their emotions, personal stories, and hopes for the future. It is the children’s hope that by bravely sharing their stories, they can inspire change and promote action to improve child welfare in our community.
Rather than displaying these portraits in our lobby, Orlando REP is honored to share a digital gallery of a few of the portraits here. Please take a moment and honor these stories by learning more about this important cause and how it impacts young people in Central Florida today. Then, consider what you might do to help.
I have my happy, jolly self and my hidden self which no one knows. I look like I am smiling but one side of my smile is drooping. It’s hard to keep on that “happy face”. There is a big tear falling from one eye because sometimes the sadness is too much to keep in. The chains and shackles of my past hold me down. Thorny vines are growing around me because for a long time I wasn’t getting anywhere. My life was wrapped in despair. On one side my sleeve has heart cut outs. This shows my loving side. I am a very loving person. The other side has tear shaped cut outs showing my sadness and depression. The moon represents my stressful and depressing past. Lying in my bed at night the bad memories come back. The moon is glowing and there are stars in the sky because I have hope that one day those bad memories won’t haunt me anymore. Some memories are more painful and harder to break. Those memories are the chains, but they are beginning to fade. Slowly I am breaking free and growing. The sun shows that sometimes I am radiant. I have joy and hope that I will graduate. The butterfly book shows my growth in knowledge. Knowledge that will help me succeed. The flowers show that I am beginning to flourish and prosper. The palm tree shows my desire for peace.
In the past I was controlled by my thoughts and emotions. The voice of evil spoke in my ears telling me to remember my regrets and failures and to hate the people who did wrong to me. I was anxious, depressed, angry, sad and in pain. I believed the lies and evil words that were spoken to me by those I loved. The people I loved were easily influenced by evil forces. They didn’t have the strength to resist it. Their difficult pasts had scarred them and left them enslaved by their injuries. Those injuries caused them to hurt me very badly. I was convinced that my life was never going to change. I felt that the depression, sadness, anger, fear, hate and paranoia would always be with me. I was always going to be a puppet on those destructive strings. Two years ago I said a few words that have made a difference. Those words are “Jesus make new of me.” From that moment on life was different for me. Out of darkness comes light. Out of night comes day. We need light to see. Jesus has shown me that light. With that light I am able to see my past without being blinded by its darkness. Now I understand that I can own that past but not let it control or hold me back. I am breaking the strings of the past that controlled me. Instead I am free of my own enslavement. There is an old saying – there is nothing new under the sun. Many others have been or will go through what I have experienced. Our fate depends on what master we serve. Some people have the strength to choose their masters, for others it’s beyond their strength. “The wolf you feed is the wolf you serve. ”I will feed the wolf of goodness, kindness and love. My past will be a testimony to others. I will use my pain to help others. I want those who are in pain to know they are not alone. God is always with us and loves us. He loves us so much that he sent his son to die for us. Remember Jesus loves me and you forever and let that love bring you strength.
My vision of my future is clouded by uncertainty. Uncertainty about where my life is going. I am tired of school. I am frustrated with school. It is so hard and feels overwhelming, but I have to keep going for my family. They are depending on me to succeed and set the example. There is a lot of pressure. The expectations set for me feel so high. I worry I won’t succeed. I often think about running away, running away from all of my problems and starting over. I care about those I love. I want to help everyone but it’s not time yet. My life is too unsettled, my future too unknown. The scar on my face shows that I have been hurt. Loneliness causes me pain. The hurt continues. I wonder if it will ever go away. I have a sense of longing, but I am not sure what I am longing for. I feel anxious. The sun represents positive thoughts. I try to think positive thoughts when negative thoughts creep in. Like the sun, my positive thoughts are powerful. They keep me going when things get stressful. When I am feeling stress, I look at the moon. It helps to calm me. It is my companion when I need to be alone and think. I am wearing a suit because I put up barriers. I don’t let others in. I don’t like to open up. When the conversation turns to me, I change the subject. I hide my sadness because I don’t want to burden others. Most of the time I put on a happy face, and carry on as if everything is okay. The lightning bolt represents my disappointment over the life cards I was dealt when I was young. Like a lightning bolt it was an unexpected and shocking jolt. It didn’t stop me, but the effects are long lasting. The hope in my heart kept beating. It is still beating but keeping that beat going has gotten much harder.
These are just a few of the many stories that are yet to be told and shared. Join Orlando REP and ArtWorks by supporting The Howard Phillips Center for Children & Families, that provides children and families support systems and resources to face this issue in Central Florida and beyond. Learn more about these services, and together let’s start bringing awareness and about this issue.
More children and family services and resources:
- Child Protection Team – Safeguarding children from abuse and neglect
- Healthy Families Orange & Health Families Osceola – Supporting positive child development and growth in our local communities
- Orange County Children’s Advocacy Center – Helping heal and protect victims of the most serious child abuse cases
- Teen Xpress – Delivering healthcare at local high schools for uninsured and underinsured teens
- The Developmental Center for Infants & Children – Intervening in and strengthening families with a child at risk for developmental delays or disabilities
- Hearing Me – Empowering families with a deaf or hard of hearing child
- The Healing Tree – Serving children and families of child sexual abuse