Finding the Light Within
It’s not easy to find this fantastic and inspirational work of art. When reaching the University of Pennsylvania campus in Philadelphia, we have to look carefully for the nook of a parking lot tucked down a side street between two large buildings. That’s where we find the over 100-foot-long, three-story-high “Finding the Light Within” mural. Each year, our RI International leadership team takes an annual pilgrimage here. We work our way from the Philadelphia International Airport to this spot before dispersing to our remarkable crisis programs throughout Delaware.
It’s likely that many students and staff routinely see this mural and don’t realize the subject matter. The more than 50 people encircling rough waters, stitching together an unbroken circle of quilts, and each one is bearing the photo of a loved one. Many of the figures look upward, and the vivid sky is reminiscent of religious art from centuries past. For us, though, it’s a scene reminiscent of the patchwork of stories shared by survivors at suicide prevention conferences around the globe.
It feels like a solemn place. A place for contemplation and reflection. The team quietly spreads throughout the expanse of the parking lot to take it all in. Despite its enormous size, we can reach the wall and appreciate the level of seamless detail that amazes us every time we see it. I imagine how many family members and friends poured their own stories of grief and loss into this wall.
“Finding the Light Within” is just one of many awe-inspiring art projects across the city by Porch Light, a unique partnership of Mural Arts Philadelphia and the City’s Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual Disabilities. It aims to strengthen community wellness through public art. For this piece, artist James Burns met on multiple occasions with the local community to dream how best to tell the story of youth suicide prevention.
It’s the two central figures of the mural who remain etched in our memory long after we’ve walked away. A young man in a boat, threatened by the rocks and waves, leans on the edge facing toward us. We cannot see his expression, but his posture suggests difficulty holding on. Closest to us, we see a boy tossing a lifesaving buoy toward him. There’s a chorus of hope from the community that surrounds him, a vision for a different kind of world that stands ready to support those in debilitating emotional pain.
We’ll be back in 2020.
David is CEO and President of RI International. He’s a behavioral health innovator, entrepreneur and storyteller and the creator of HopeInc.com.