Images courtesy of Scott Gardner and About Face Charlotte

A wall is going up in Charlotte — one that organizers hope will bring people together, instead of separating them.

About Face Charlotte, an organization on a mission to tell the stories of Charlotte’s  homeless residents, will unveil a “Wall of Compassion” that celebrates thousands of acts of kindness in and around Charlotte Thursday night at Grace AME Zion Church.

Photographer and cinematographer Scott Gardner, a local artist in residence at the McColl Center for Art + Innovation, could barely contain his excitement as he described the scope of the project that started a couple weeks before Christmas.

About Face distributed nearly 2,500 “Blessing Boxes” to schools, churches, synagogs, businesses, families and individuals. Inside each cardboard box were 100 strips of colored paper and a pen. When a person performed an act of kindness, no matter how small, they were to document it on one of the strips and insert it in the box. When all 100 strips were used up, the box would be returned to About Face Charlotte for construct art projects around town. (The boxes lock and link together like Legos.)

The Blessing Boxes are a way to “create a visible community of kindness,” said Dana Endsley, a local artist and activist with About Face Charlotte.

Endsley came up with the idea after witnessing the events that followed the shooting death of Keith Lamont Scott. She was traveling in Austin, Texas, at the time and saw images on TV of her city burning. Sad and disheartened, Endsley wanted to show Charlotte’s compassion and caring side. Why not a wall that brings people together, she said, unlike the proposed wall along the Mexico border?

Calling it a “divine download,” Endsley said she awoke one morning with the idea for the Blessing Boxes and the Wall of Compassion.

Building the Wall

Historic Grace AME Zion Church is the perfect venue for the unveiling, Gardner said. “You can feel the goodness that’s been in that building for 120 years.”

The Wall of Compassion stands 8-feet tall and 50-feet long. And that’s only about half the Blessing Boxes at this point, Gardner said. The wall will grow as more boxes are returned.

A 20-foot by 20-foot banner also will showcase some of the more touching acts of kindness. Three to four volunteers spend a couple hours a day going through the tens of thousands of notes. And though it may seem tedious work, Gardner said it’s almost therapeutic reading about the nice things people have done for each other — from small acts such as opening doors for others to donating money to keep a family from being evicted.

“It’s like filling up your bathtub with goodness and soaking in it for an hour – an hour of reading about the goodness of humanity,”  he said.

Ten portraits of homeless people who shared their stories with Gardner will encircle the wall. An audio track with snippets of conversations from the 10 subjects will play in the background. About Face Charlotte has been telling stories of Charlotte’s invisible people for about 18 months, said Gardner, who co-founded the organization with Hannah Blanton.

A profound thing happens when you listen to someone without judgment, said Gardner. “Vulnerability happens, they open up and once you know their story, “there’s no way you could be hating on somebody.”

More to come from the Blessing Boxes

The installation will move to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center on May 5 and to Romare Bearden Park on June 9 as part of an event with the  Charlotte Symphony. A community art-making event is slated for the end of June. Where the wall will end up is as yet unknown.

There are new ideas and more to come.

“This isn’t the warm-up,” Gardner said. “We are attempting to be an organization that continues to tell these stories and offers new ways of getting the community involved, getting to know each other and engaging with each other with kindness and compassion.”

About Face Charlotte wants to take small steps over the course of 10 years and slowly transform the cultural landscape of Charlotte. “Real change is slow change,” Gardner said. “We’re not trying to be viral, the hot thing of the moment. We’re in it for the long haul — definitely.”

Want to go?
About Face Charlotte will unveil its Wall of Compassion as part of the Uptown Crawl.
When: Thursday, April 27, 6 p.m. – 9 p.m.
Where:  Grace AME Zion Church, 219 S. Brevard St.
Parking: Valet parking at the Hyatt Place, 222 S. Caldwell St., for $8 instead of the usual $10 fee.

About Face Charlotte:
A photographic and storytelling project that connects people to people in our community, elevates compassion and empathy and encourages ongoing acts of love and altruism.
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