PITTSBURGH — If you’ve met Ebtehal Badawi, chances are she greeted you with the question, “How do you build bridges between people?”
“Every time it’s a different (answer) because there’s different people and different shares,” said Badawi.
The Pittsburgh mom has made it her mission to figure out what connects people, as she brings that connection to life, brush stroke by brush stroke.
“My intention was, how can I bring everyone together,” said Badawi.
She sketches her vision on canvases or big murals and has anyone and everyone paint them in a project she calls, “Pittsburgh Builds Bridges.”
The idea came from a very divisive interaction her teenage son had playing hockey. She says he had some racist comments made toward him.
Badawi’s family has roots in Saudi Arabia, but they’ve called Pittsburgh home for the last eight years.
“As a mother, it hurts that he went through that,” said Badawi. “Because how many times kids go through this and no one knows about it, and sadly it leads to suicide.”
To try to prevent that, the art lover had the idea to put a picture in her son’s school.
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“To show that even if we look different, even if we have different beliefs, even if we cheer for a different sports team, we still can come together,” said Badawi.
Badawi got permission to put the design up in Pleasant Hills Middle School. She heard stories from parents of children who’d been bullied, about how it almost immediately had an impact.
“He was at the school cafeteria, he saw the design, he felt he belonged and he got better,” recalled Badawi. “I heard that and I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, art heals?’”
And hearing this from her son was the crowning stroke:
“He told me, ‘Mommy, keep doing your art because I believe it helps.’”
That was in 2019. Fast forward three years, and Badawi estimates that almost 3,700 brush strokes have been added to her paintings from people all over Pittsburgh. She sets up canvases at different events and gets help painting walls, like the one at Hello Neighbor, a nonprofit helping immigrants and refugees in the steel city.
“I’m incredibly proud of Ebtehal and the work that she’s doing in sharing this message and putting this mural all over Pittsburgh and I hope it inspires others to join in the work with us,” said Sloane Davidson, founder/CEO of Hello Neighbor.
But Badawi’s work isn’t done. She’s been working toward finding a huge wall downtown where kids and athletes from Pittsburgh sports teams can paint a mural together.
“To plant these seeds of love and acceptance in our kids hearts,” explained Badawi.