At first, the idea might come across as a little morbid.
Most people do not want to even contemplate death — much less consider everything they want to accomplish before it comes knocking.
Goal Academy teacher David Wilson explained the “Before I Die” wall recently erected on the Cleveland/Bradley County Greenway is more about living life than facing death.
“[We wondered] what we could do to get people to think about not only the people we have lost, but what is important in their [own] lives,” Wilson said. “What do they want to accomplish? At Goal Academy, we talk about that a lot. What do the students want to accomplish?”
Wilson charged the students to find an art project they could complete on the Greenway. Ideas were tossed back and forth before a student discovered the “Before I Die” wall.
According to the international project’s website, a woman named Candy painted the first “Before I Die” wall on the side of an abandoned building in New Orleans. It was almost completely filled by its second day. The responses allowed her to, “[understand] her neighbors in new and enlightening ways.”
When she posted the pictures online, hundreds of people across the country expressed an interest in the project. According to the website, more than 425 walls in over 25 languages and 60 countries have since been created.
Now Cleveland has joined the movement.
Greenway Board chairman Cameron Fisher said the wall will allow for an artistic outlet.
Students initially brought the project before the Greenway Public Arts committee before approaching the board.
A video screening and presentation, as well as the promise of upkeep, were enough to sway the board in the students’ favor.
“You realize you are taking a chance with something like this,” Fisher said. “But you also realize this gives people an artistic outlet to write what they want.”
He said he understands not everyone will use the board responsibly. There might be some individuals who decide to write inappropriate material.
The plan at this time is for students to check the board once a week. Pictures will be taken of the responses and eventually posted online. Old and inappropriate responses alike will be wiped clean.
Cleveland residents have already shown an interest in having their hopes, plans and silly comments shared with others.
Some of these have included: to learn and grow; eat an apple; stop inflation; win; make the world a little better; stop racism; be free; eat cake; marry my [girlfriend]; love; stop death; win world’s strongest man; live a better life; travel; and have fun.
Wilson said the board might experience changes. For example, February’s might say, “I love ...” or March might read, “I run because ...” Each prompt is an invitation for the community to interact with the project. Answers can range from the poignant to the superficial.
According to Wilson, Lowe’s contributed to the project with the donation of wood and paint. The Greenway board then made a matching donation of $250. Goal Academy Principal Kyle Page and Director of City Schools Johnny McDaniel supported the project.
However, Wilson said the students remained the driving force behind the wall.
“The public relations team at Goal Academy, in conjunction with my marketing team, has really worked hard to make this happen,” Wilson said. “We’ve had obstacle after obstacle, from funding to getting the supplies to permissions, and all of this has been step by step by step.”
Continued Wilson, “They’ve been able to see all of this and the process they need to go through.”
Page agreed saying the project has been good for the students.
“It is just an experience that these students have said they will never forget,” Page said. “They don’t often get the opportunity to [present an idea] to the mayor.”
Students at Goal Academy are often encouraged to think beyond their current situation. Page and others at the school ask them to think of objectives which can be reached either tomorrow or down the road with hard work and determination.
Page explained the project has allowed the students to give back to the community, “... because the community has given a lot to these students and their families,” Page said. “They’ve been on the receiving end of ‘take’ a great deal. We want to teach them how to give to others.”
Wilson said the project is short term with the possibility of continuing up to a year. The Before I Die wall can be found behind the Cleveland High School practice field on the Greenway off Raider Drive.