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One man is making beautiful reminders of love in unlikely places. One wall at a time.

In a world where it can seem like hate is winning, I'm glad he's playing for the other team.

One man is making beautiful reminders of love in unlikely places. One wall at a time.

Ever drive by a neighborhood* and think: "I wonder who lives here...?"

(*Or ride by! Shout out to bikes and public transportation!)

Artist Stephen Powers, aka ESPO, did.


A photo posted by Prose Appropos (@steveespopowers) on

And his answer to that question is truly beautiful.

http://marksurface.tumblr.com/post/40792735199/a-love-letter-for-you-philadelphia

<3

Powers is the man behind the "A Love Letter to the City" public art project.

http://marksurface.tumblr.com/post/41795971025/a-love-letter-for-you-philadelphia

It started in Philly and has since spread to cities around the world, from Baltimore to Dublin to Brooklyn to ... your town next?

When you're just passing through neighborhoods — especially in places that have a reputation as rough or violent, like West Philly or Baltimore, where "Love Letters" have popped up — it's easy to forget there are moms, dads, cousins, and grandmas living there.

http://marksurface.tumblr.com/post/41795340354/a-love-letter-for-you-philadelphia

Folks who laugh, who cry, who love, and everything in between.

And that's where Powers' project, which began in partnership with Philadelphia's Mural Arts Program, comes in. To remind us about love.

Noted. ;) Picture by me!

Yeah, it's cheesy, but kind of necessary. There are enough reminders of hate!

Powers is adamant that the art be about the people who live in the neighborhoods where he paints the murals. So, step one: Talk to the people and get inspired.

"I have to go to a city first and talk to people," Powers said to The Atlantic's CityLab. "Then, I try to make those conversations into visual communication. I liken what we do to being a visual sound system. We engage and we learn, and ultimately we head out to a wall and figure out what fits—in every way. Then we paint it. Painting is the easy part."

He says, "It's public art in the way it should be — working with the public."

regram parsons with one from @sredles24. for my man Milton Eager, words courtesy of Mr Chris. 20 years ago he moved in the neighborhood and not long after heard drug dealers shooting out all the car windows on the block. He had his kids lie down on the floor and he called the police. The police wouldnt risk sending officers to his block, instead they told him to move. People would ask Mr Chris why he wouldn move, and he said "I am here because its home" Thats a Baltimore Love Letter from Mr Chris to his community and from us to you.
A photo posted by Prose Appropos (@steveespopowers) on

In the Instagram, Powers notes:

" ... for my man Milton Eager, words courtesy of Mr Chris. 20 years ago he moved in the neighborhood and not long after heard drug dealers shooting out all the car windows on the block. ... People would ask Mr Chris why he wouldn move, and he said "I am here because its home" Thats a Baltimore Love Letter from Mr Chris to his community and from us to you.

There's nothing quite like reading love letters inspired by complete strangers written large (literally ... on a giant wall in bright paint) to make you realize that our human struggles are the same.

The first of these murals are visible all along the train path running through West Philadelphia, Powers' old hometown neighborhood.

http://marksurface.tumblr.com/post/41794565373/a-love-letter-for-you-philadelphia

But you can also see them from the ground.

I took that picture! From the ground!

And according to Powers' Instagram, even Pope Francis peeped his work as he rode the elevated train in Philadelphia.

Philadelphia, beautiful muse in well worn shoes. like the guy hauling away a handtruck of left over free water from the pope visit. Thank you Francis for hopping the El to see this refreshed for fall by Mike Levy, freshed in the first place by @thelossprevention
A photo posted by Prose Appropos (@steveespopowers) on

The caption reads:

"Philadelphia, beautiful muse in well worn shoes. like the guy hauling away a handtruck of left over free water from the pope visit. Thank you Francis for hopping the El to see this refreshed for fall by Mike Levy, freshed in the first place by @thelossprevention"

The aim of "Love Letter" is to take all the incredible humanity going on behind the walls of these neighborhoods and make it visible to everyone by putting it on the outside.

http://marksurface.tumblr.com/post/43164435219/a-love-letter-for-you-philadelphia

As Powers told BrainPickings:

"The art is secondary to bringing the community together and getting everyone to agree on something. The wall stands as testimony to a unified community, even if the artwork is completely boring."

It reads: "Knocked on your door / legs tired back sore / migraine fur sure / nor more I swore / you smile I'm cured." Photo also by me.

All of his murals are about one thing: LOVE.

Powers told CityLab:

"Yeah, I'm a romantic! Duh! I'm jealous of musicians, jealous of how music is a medium people integrate into their lives in a way they rarely do with art. I like to think of myself as a visual blues musician — I'm painting love songs. When you pick up a guitar, what else would you want to play? Everything is for love. It's the original motivation for everything. Exclamation point."

Whether you've been in love before, love your mom, or only figure out what love is like by listening to old Motown songs, every human can relate to LOVE.

Photo taken by me.

That's why these murals are so brilliant.

West Philadelphia, where Powers is from, is a bit rough around the edges, and not many folks from outside of West Philly tend to go there.

And if you don't know people, how can you see them as your neighbors?

In a world where we're sometimes so removed from each other, where we watch the news of mass shootings, riots, war, and sadness from behind our individual computer screens, Powers' murals are there to remind us all of just how similar we all really are.

Ain't it the truth. This pic also taken by me.

We all love exploring. We love beauty. We love. Period.

http://marksurface.tumblr.com/post/43162359469/a-love-letter-for-you-philadelphia

In a world where there are far too many reminders that hate is alive and well, I'm grateful for Powers' work. It's a reminder that love is behind every wall, in every neighborhood, and in every heart.

<3

True

When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

Photo by Tod Perry

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