Black and queer artists, healers, and ecologists in Oakland, California have formed a collective, Lead to Life, dedicated to the principle that “Black wellness is the antithesis of state violence.” Inspired by the work of Mexican artist Pedro Reyes, the group collects guns, melts them down, and retools then as shovels. A message printed on the handle of the shovel reads, “As we decompose violence, may the earth again be free.”
In honor of the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s assassination, Lead to Life held a special ceremony. With local survivors of gun violence, they planted flowering fruit trees in memory of those who had been killed by gun violence. One mother sprinkled the ashes of her son into the hole dug for the tree. “His energy will be going through the lifeline of the tree,” she said, “and coming out as these flowers and buds, and that will radiate energy back into the world.”
To see a short video about their work and this ceremony in particular, click below.

Trebbe Johnson
Trebbe JohnsonFounder
Trebbe is the author of The World Is a Waiting Lover and 101 Ways to Make Guerrilla Beauty. Her new book, Radical Joy for Hard Times: Finding Meaning and Making Beauty, will be published in Fall 2018 by North Atlantic Books. Her articles about people’s emotional and spiritual relationship with nature have appeared in Orion, Sierra, Ecopsychology, The Ecologist, The Nation, Harper’s and other magazines. She lives with her husband, Andrew Gardner, in rural northeastern Pennsylvania, a region currently under exploitation by natural gas companies.

Image Credit:

  • Leadtolifeteam: Lead to Life


  • IMG 4847

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