Participants trace portraits of healers for the Reflections of Healing project.

Learning Through Healing
Monday, July 14, 2014

“Draw what you see, not what you think.” Those were the guiding words of mixed media artist Brett Cook, as he led Oakland community members in a participatory art project entitled Reflections of Healing this past weekend in the Victorian halls of West Oakland’s DeFremery Park Community Center.

As part of his ongoing project in conjunction with Oakland’s Life is Living Festival, Cook selected ten prominent Oakland-based educators, health workers, activists and artists who he refers to as “healers” to participate in the project. Although they may not have identified as healers themselves, Cook believes that healers can take on many different identities, from activists and educators, to artists and creatives.

First interviewing the subjects, Cook then chose to draw the healers in their adolescent years, in efforts to highlight the collective power of youth. With help from the Eastside Arts Alliance, the Oakland Asian Cultural Center, the YMCA of the East Bay, the Oakland Museum of California and organizers from Oakland's Life is Living Festival, Cook selected the healers based upon their contributions to their surrounding community.

After a short drawing exercise where Cook related the importance of illustrating from reality rather than perception, the community members set upon Brett’s iconic illustrations, filling in his projected drawings with markers on large 8’x12’ wooden panels. 

The final phase of the process will be completed by Cook, when he adds his signature brush strokes to the pieces, flushing them out with vibrant color and energy. Beginning in the fall of 2014, the murals will be installed on 12th Street wall of the Oakland Museum of California.

On Healing...

During the event, we took the opportunity to speak to a diverse group of participants about their thoughts on healing, and how healing plays a role in the community. Their insightful comments show the progressive consciousness that characterizes much of Oakland’s population.

Kathy Ahoy. Photo by Jean Melesaine.

Kathy Ahoy – Nurse and Activist 

“Anytime you’re in some kind of pain, whether it be physical, mental or spiritual, it’s up to each one of us to heal from within and then you go out to others--people that you trust--and have them help you, support you, and heal you too.”


Lauren Benjamin. Photo by Jean Melesaine.

Lauren Benjamin – Oakland Community Member

“Healing is growth. It’s sustainability. It’s purging. We have to shed skin. We have to re-grow and regenerate on all levels-- emotionally, physically,  and spiritually. We just have to keep changing; and healing is a part of this process.


David Beacon. Photo by Jean Melesaine.

David Bacon – Artist and Activist

“Healing to me means social justice. It means people are able to organize and get paid better for the work that they do. As a result, their families are able to survive, and their kids can go to school.


Asha Mehta. Photo by Jean Melesaine.

Asha Mehta – Consultant

“For me, healing is both about finding a community of like-minded people with similar values, and then also fighting for other people. Making sure they have better experiences is a healing thing for me.


Lilly. Photo by Jean Melesaine.

Lilly – Activist

“To me healing means empowerment. Where people don’t feel helpless, but they feel that they have some control over their lives and over their choices.”


Traci Bartlow. Photo by Jean Melesaine.

Tracy Bartlow – Artist and Choreographer

“Community matters because it’s a part of life. As humans, it’s just in our nature to be in groups and be with each other. And being in a healthy and prosperous, progressive community is something that is a joy and also an example of healing.”


Brett Cook. Photo by Jean Melesaine.

Brett Cook – Mixed Media Artist

“Part of why I’ve been interested in the topic of healing is because rather than centralize or define what healing is in one phrase or word, I wanted to show healing as this really dynamic, expansive idea.


—by Max Gibson, OMCA Community Storyteller ; Jean Melesaine, OMCA Connect Photographer