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Edwin Gil has a spirit that is much like the artwork he creates; bright, happy and cheerful.
But the 42 year old artist wasn't always this way. A turbulent situation in his native Colombia left Edwin feeling helpless and robbed him of his home.
"In December 19, 1998 the guerilla tried to kidnap us, my partner and myself," said Edwin.
He fled his country after his partner was shot and killed. Edwin then turned his tragedy into a blessing.
"The only way to communicate my pain and what I was passing through was through the arts so art saved my life," said Edwin.
His paintings are a hot item, garnering both international and local attention for highlighting social issues.
His latest project hangs at the Imaginon. The Flag of Hope promotes the state's diverse communities, created out of 10 thousand hand prints from different cities in North Carolina.
Right now he is partnering with Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools to launch anti-bullying project, "Faces of Diversity."
"This student is from Northwest School of the Arts," says Edwin pointing to the current piece he's working on.
"She was one of the students who was bullied because of her size, her skin color, because her culture."
The background of the 111 different pieces of art will be built by fingerprints collected from CMS students who have pledged never to bully.
And this August, the Anti-bully project will take Edwin to the country he fled 14 years ago.
Greg Crumpton, President of AirTight, a Charlotte Business is one of several companies coming together to help bring Edwin Gil's Faces of Diversity initiative to the families and children of Medellin.
"It has to do with helping children and helping people break the cycle of what they were born into," said Crumpton.
Other business participating in the project include Rooster Communications and Toowell with Colombian based companies, Clamasan and Agro MAIS, and SosPaisa – the foreign relations program created by the Mayor's Office of Medellin – and Buen Comienzo (Healthy Start), the beneficiary of this public-private partnership.
"Our goal with this partnership is two-fold," said Crumpton.
"We are able to support Edwin Gil and his Faces of Diversity as a cultural connector, while also shining a light on the important role that Buen Comienzo plays in some of poorest neighborhoods of Medellin.
Proceeds from "Faces of Diversity" will help Buen Comienzo counsel, mentor and provide parenting skills to teen mothers in Colombia.
"Regardless of nationality or your situation that there are people that are willing to help you do better and to grow maybe beyond your current means and providing a path to do that," added Crumpton.
A path that Edwin painted for himself one brush stroke at a time.
Volunteers from each company involved will conduct the Faces of Diversity program on Friday, August 2 at Jardín Infantil Buen Comienzo Belén – Altavistastarting at 9am in order to collect thumbprints from children and families.
From these thumbprints, he will make his Faces of Diversity art piece and present it in a special ceremony to government officials and the communities of Medellin at Jardín Infantil Buen Comienzo Carpineloon Thursday, August 8 at 9am.
Right now "Faces of Diversity" is collecting clothing, books and movies for children 5 years old and younger to take to Colombia.