Lead to Life is transforming weapons into shovels for tree planting ceremonies at sites that have been impacted by violence or carry spiritual significance across Atlanta (occupied lands of the Cherokee and Creek people) and Oakland (occupied lands of the Ohlone people.)
Inspired by Mexican artist Pedro Reyes and an ancient lineage of Swords to Plowshares creators, we choose to locate our alchemy and cultural healing work in the US (occupied Turtle Island).
on the practice //
Intention in medicine is defined as the healing process of a wound. Our intention through Lead to Life is to transform that which ends life into that which sustains life - to facilitate an alchemical healing process that can physically transform both our weapons and our imaginations.
Within the current climate of pervasive environmental racism, gun violence, and desecration of the land, our creative interventions are designed to:
- bridge connections between restorative and environmental justice
- restore the ecological foundations of sacred spaces within our urban geographies, and
- rekindle relationships of reverence and reciprocity with each other and the Earth.
The original collaborators, brontë velez + Kyle Lemle met in July 2016 as inaugural recipients of the Spiritual Ecology Fellowship. Through that connection they were able to bridge their complementary and diverse histories in community organizing, art as social practice, ecological restoration and climate resilience to birth Lead to Life.
in 2015, brontë worked as a copy editor on a retrospective of Mexican artist Pedro Reyes’ work. when they witnessed his projects Disarm and Palas por Pistolas - in which he transforms weapons into shovels and instruments - they were met with profound healing and a deep desire to share this medicine through continuing the rituals in the united states through Lead to Life as a direct response to losing a dear friend to gun violence alongside the larger traumatic impact on black communities and environments from police brutality.
During the fellowship, they built strong relationships with leaders around the world who are bridging the gaps between faith, activism, ceremony and resistance.
We will be sharing more on our community partners soon!
brontë is guided by the call that “black wellness is the antithesis to state violence” (Mark Anthony Johnson). a black-latinx transdisciplinary artist, trickster, and wakeworker their eco-social art praxis (theory + embodiment) lives at the intersections of black feminist placemaking, black feminist prophetic tradition, environmental justice, and death doulaship.
they are currently moved and paused by the questions, “how can we allow as much room for god to flow through and between us as possible? what affirms the god of and between us? what is in the way? how can we decompose what interrupts our proximity to divinity? what ways can commemorative justice rooted in black feminist placemaking promote the memory of god, which is to say, love and freedom between us?”
they relate to god as the moments of divine spacetime that remind us we are not separate, the moments that re-belong us to the earth. they encounter these questions through their work with Lead to Life, serving as media director for Oakland-rooted farm and nursery Planting Justice, and everyday queer black life ever-committed to humor & liberation, ever-marked by grief at the distance made between us and all of life.
jazmín calderón torres
Finding grounding in the interdisciplinary, jazmin (they/them) is a queer non-binary multiracial Afro Indigenous Boricua from Kissimmee, Florida. They root into this work via a community study in Black Indigenous regenerative agriculture, ecology, plant medicine, and critical connections held in reciprocity. Their draw to the decomposition of violence distributed through environmental racism and state violence, is not a work of leisure, but a deep committed to their lineage, the diaspora, and communities that raised them. They are currently studying Sustainable Environmental Design and Conservation Resource Studies at UC Berkeley and deepening their relationship to the creation of speculative media.
Stormy St. Val
program support associate
Birthed from the Pearl of the Antilles, known today as Haiti, Stormy (she/her) journeyed to America at a young age to be raised in the city of Houston, Texas. Her deep connection with the earth drives her towards the discipline of ecology of psyche, relationships, and land. Stormy is an experienced therapist, community organizer, nature-connection guide, and creative facilitator. She received her masters degree at Lesley University in Expressive Arts Therapy, which empowers her to help others cultivate mental liberation through the healing powers of creative arts, creative writing, music, somatic practices, and principles of ecotherapy. Stormy’s apprenticeships to the craft of herbalism, ecopsychology, permaculture, and outdoor survival skills influence her professional and personal endeavors. While on a year respite facilitating Nature-Based Expressive Arts Therapy, she is honored to take on the role as Program Support for Lead to Life and teaching at Berkeley Forest School.
Kyle is a community forester, musician & organizer working at the intersections of environmental justice and cultural regeneration. He has worked for a number of international environmental NGOs and grassroots tree planting projects from the forests of the Himalayas and Southeast Asia to the streets of San Francisco. As an official delegate to Germany with SustainUS and the US People’s Delegation, Kyle organized a large action against the Trump Administration at the 2017 United Nations Climate Talks that made international headlines. He is a Spiritual Ecology Fellow, a Princeton in Asia Fellow & a graduate of Brown University. When he is not planting trees, Kyle serves as founder and co-director of the Thrive Choir & Thrive Street Choir, which performs original gospel-inspired music for social justice at festivals, conferences and direct actions across California, and every month in their home beloved community of Thrive East Bay in Oakland.
communications + research fellow
Liz Kennedy is a storyteller, activist, and researcher from Ann Arbor, MI (originally called Gaa-giishka'aanig by the Objibwe people). She is committed to decomposing environmental and state violence and their roots in white supremacy, capitalism, settler colonialism, and heteropatriarchy. As a student at Duke University, Liz began her organizing career by protesting the Dan River coal ash spill in 2014. She later joined the Moral Monday Movement under Reverend William Barber’s leadership, and became a campus representative for the NAACP working at the intersections of racial, environmental, & social justice. She continued her commitment to environmental justice by working for United Way in Flint, Michigan in 2016, supporting community-led solutions to the water crisis.
Liz recently completed a fellowship as a Research and Policy Analyst with the NAACP Environmental and Climate Justice Program. She co-authored texts on just transition and energy justice, equitable climate change adaptation, youth organizing, black representation in the green economy, food justice, and more. As an intersectional black feminist, she's passionate about uniting and queering transnational struggles for environmental, gender, racial, and economic justice.