About a month or so ago, I was walking in downtown Brooklyn and noticed groups of people crowded around construction site near a fast-food dive that’s been closed for renovation. As I continued to walk, I noticed people writing on the black boards with large pieces of chalk. Some stood there for a while, and other quickly wrote, placed the chalk back in the nearby baskets, and walked away with smiles on their faces. I decided to walk over to the board and saw the words “Before I Die” in large, bold white letters. As I moved in I noticed several spaces that read “Before I die I want to ________”. People had written in responses:

Before I die I want to be heard.

Before I die I want to propose in Paris.

Before I die I want to discover myself.

Before I die I want to love without fear.

Before I die I want to be able to retire.

Before I die I want to see my daughter be happy.

Before I die I want to stop using drugs.

Before I die I want to cure AIDS.

I had been having a gloomy day, focusing on what was going on in my head and not much on the world around me. But this made me smile. It brought me back to the place where I realize that life is more than just about whatever it is I’m going through. I looked at the people who were writing on the black board: grandparents, teens, mothers, people from all races and ethnicities. We all may look different, and we all may come from different walks of life, but we do have three things in common: 1) We each have a story, 2) we all have aspirations, goals, and dreams that we often keep to ourselves, and 3) we often don’t take the time to express our gratitude. 

Before I Die is an interactive public art project created by artist Candy Chang that takes portions of construction sites and transforms them into community shared spaces where individuals can share their dreams, aspirations, goals, and what matters to them most. Chang believes that the design of these spaces can better reflect what is important to us as a community and as individuals. Originally starting in Chang’s New Orleans neighborhood, Before I Die has moved on to different cities throughout the world and speaks to the imagination in all of us. 

We all have things that we aspire to be, do, and have. Not only for ourselves, but for our families and communities. I fully believe that each person that comes into this life with a unique purpose, a reason to transform the planet (as cheesy as that sounds). I also believe that our stories can motivate and inspire others. Something as simple as filling in the blank on the Before I Die chalk board can invoke a feeling of “Hey, that’s what I want to do”, or “Wow, if that person can aspire to do that, so can I.” Before I Die is taking a public space and allowing people to share their most personal dreams, which is an unique way of voicing what matters. 

I spend most of my days focusing on how I can be of service to women and girls of color, but seeing art projects like Before I Die reminds me that it’s ok to think about myself for a change. Also, it’s more than ok to realize that we each have what we need inside of us to really change this world and to live life on our terms. Before I Die also makes me think about how I often spend time think too much about the future that I don’t often take the time to be grateful for what I have in the present moment. 

Today, the Before I Die wall was taken down in downtown Brooklyn due to the construction on the restaurant it was connected to almost being completed. I was very sad to see it go, and I hope that this isn’t the last time New York City sees a Before I Die wall in our neighborhood. Candy has created a Before I Die toolkit to help you transform your community. Do check it out, and if you spot a Before I Die wall in your neighborhood,  send your pictures to Candy at hello@civiccenter.cc . Support women of color bringing innovative and positive change and dialogue to our communities. 

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