How did We All Live Here did come together?
June 2015, I was walking my dog, while living in Bucktown, and I had seen this white wall that had never been tagged in all of the years that I had been living there. The wall stuck out like a sore thumb to me. I started thinking of different things I could write on the wall where if I did actually write it, it wouldn’t get removed. I probably had 1000 terrible ideas, but this one particular night I was reflecting on how I made it to Chicago. That night while walking my dog, a quote came to my head, “We All Live Here”. I stopped in my tracks and thought, income equality, gender equality, racial equality, and sexual equality, are all very deep topics, and they fit perfect with the name “We All Live Here”.
Mantras have a become a big thing over the past couple of years. Why do you think there’s such power in mantras?
I think a lot of people are lost and whether they’re actively seeking inspiration or passively coming across it, people are inspired by words that can help them get through the day. If you come across a quote and it hits you the right way that day, quotes are going to affect you from here on out. You Are Beautiful and I Heart New York are powerful examples of mantras.
With We All Live Here, your main focus is to educate the youth, but how important is it also to teach the adults about diversity and inclusion?
I think by teaching the kids, they teach the adults in a better way. Let’s say little Johnny has a racist Grandpa and he says something racist, but the six-year-old grandson tells his Grandpa ‘We All Live Here’ and walks away. Now the Grandpa has to think about how he was just schooled by a six-year-old and now he has to have that dialogue internally with himself about why that happened and maybe that can make a change.
It has now been 2.5 years since you’ve started We All Live Here, did you ever think it would turn into what it has? What have been the ups/downs you’ve faced with running this organization?
I had grand visions and crazy ideas on what could happen, but it’s been a wild ride. You never have any idea of what’s going to happen. I tell people all the time, don’t plan, and don’t worry about the details, if you want to do something, just start doing it.
There’s going to be highs and lows. Luckily, for me, I have direct feedback from kids that I see their smiling faces. I see them running across the room to give me a hug before I walk out of the room. There are these little moments of magic where you break through with some kid and it’s just obvious that I’m doing the right thing. Now, there are other times where I’ve had to sell my car, move out of my dream apartment, I’ve had to financially completely change my life from where I was at. But all those things seem petty and meaningless now that I actually do something every single second of every single day that is meaningful.
Recently, I saw you putting together a tile mural in the West Loop
The project itself came about because there was some racist graffiti that had been sprayed on the bridges going into the West Loop. I got a phone call from Carla Agostinelli who is the President of the West Loop Community Organization. She said, “I’ve been following what you’ve been doing with these schools around town. There’s recently been some racist graffiti sprayed in our neighborhood, is there anything you can think of that you can do to help remind people that those messages are not tolerated.” First of all, I was honored that I’m being invited into this conversation. I went into her office and we started talking ideas, and I remember looking out her window and I saw the Bridgford Foods building. I asked if she knew the guys that owned the factory because I thought it’d be cool to use their wall to do a mural on it. Initially, I wasn’t even allowed to write ‘We All Live Here’ on the wall. That was interesting because ‘We All Live Here’ was the only reason I was in the conversation, to begin with. But, they thought it was a political message and it could affect their business. We ended up coming with this idea of a pixelated planet. The idea being, what’s a better reminder that we all live here or that people in the West Loop are from all different parts of the world. This was a physical reminder to show people the importance of people living and working together rather than being divisive.
In the future of We All Live Here, do you ever see a new mantra/saying/quote coming soon?
I think there will be offshoots of ‘We All Live Here’. All-ways welcome is one I’m thinking of. I really want to make a shirt for high school kids that says High School is so #&^%@* Cool. But, I think We All Live Here is so timely and important right now, it’s going to keep getting pushed forward.
Matthew Hoffman and you are both doing great things for the city with your words. Will there ever be a collab in the future?
I hope so. I would love that. I talk about Matt a lot because I’m very inspired by him. If I didn’t know him, hadn’t gotten the chance to talk to him, and hadn’t seen what he had done with ‘You Are Beautiful’ I would’ve never thought a phrase like ‘We All Live Here’ could be doing what it’s doing.
When it’s all said and done how would you like to be remembered?
I’d be honored if I were even remembered at all. More than me being remembered, I would like ‘We All Live Here’ to be remembered. I’d like that message to be remembered. I don’t think we need to turn the peoples head 180 degrees, in many ways we just need to shift their focus 15 degrees. That little shift can make a monumental change across society and I hope to do that with ‘We All Live Here’.