Restored Dream Project

 

Creating Hope Through Art
by Lisa Moore

Joe Rob has loved art since he was a little boy. But as a preacher’s son, everything centered around the church, he says, and he never got a chance to explore his creativity.

“I would draw on the walls and hide it behind doors or in the closets, but I’d always get caught and end up getting a ‘whoopin’ ’ six months later,” he recalls.

Today, Rob, 42, is the founder of Restored Dreams, a grassroots art project that reconnects individuals who are homeless or in transition with the larger community through art, music, dance and poetry. Rob has experienced homelessness throughout his life.

“At the age of six, I went into the foster care system and was shuffled around a lot. As soon as I got out of the system at 17, I became homeless and lived on the streets. I was homeless off and on for years, couldn’t maintain a job, running around and not knowing what I was supposed to be doing in life.”

In his 30’s, Rob spent 18 months in prison in Georgia, and when he got out he was homeless once again. But this time he was determined to have a purpose in his life. “I decided I was going to do art.”

An encounter at a friend’s house pointed Rob in the right direction. He noticed a stick his friend had and kept visualizing a lion’s head in the stick. Rob talked his buddy out of the stick and for four months he used an ice pick to carve the symbolism of his life into it.

“The lion’s head represented God, enlightenment, riches – a better life that I wanted. The sun, moon and stars represented the heavens. I carved a stairway that either went up to the heavens or down to hell. At the bottom I carved a devil’s head surrounded by fire. Under that I had a brick wall that represented being blocked. Under that I had chains and bats flying. It represented flying around trying to get out of my situation. So the staircase represented the crossroads I was at in my life.”

Five years ago Rob moved back to Charlotte, continued carving and also painted with watercolors and pastels at ArtWorks 945, a studio at The Urban Ministry Center comprised of Charlotte artists who struggle with homelessness and poverty. He started taking his work to local galleries, coffee shops and other venues where he received rave reviews that left him feeling both encouraged and discouraged.

“People told me how good I was and where I should be at. I knew I was good, but I was frustrated because I wanted to be making money at it. I asked God to give me something to get going and he showed me the vision of how to set up Restored Dreams. He said, ‘You will make it if you help others,’” remembers Rob.

So Rob hit the pavement, befriending local artists and poets and telling them of his plan to help those in transition by providing them an outlet for creative expression. When he found a venue to have a show he would ask them to come out and offer their support by performing alongside those trying to get back on their feet. It proved to be inspirational for everyone involved.

Rob realizes that those in the transitional community need a way to express what they are going through. “My thing is they don’t have any way to get themselves out there. Creativity gives people the opportunity to think outside of the box. It gives them another goal to move into the next place. We don’t discriminate by age, color or sexual preference, we just want to bring the community together.”

The outlet that Restored Dreams provides turned Tamara Starr’s life around. Three years ago, at 22, she became homeless, losing her house, car, job and daughter. Though she had written poetry throughout her life, she says this time she was doing it to keep from going crazy. Scared and lonely, her writings offered hope that all would be okay and helped her to start picking up the pieces of her shattered reality. But she kept her poems to herself.

That changed one winter evening as she waited with other homeless people to be assigned to a church that would give them shelter for the night through the Rooms at the Inn program. Starr says the hopelessness and depression in the room was overwhelming.

“I just couldn’t take it anymore. I stood up and began reciting a poem and I could feel the energy change, so I did another and another and another until I felt better. Instead of people telling me to ‘be quiet’ they asked me for more the next day and the day after. So I gave them what they wanted until I became known as ‘the poetry girl Starr,’” says Starr, who considers her gift a hybrid between a storyteller and a preacher.

Eventually, she became a member of Restored Dreams. Rob quickly recognized her talent and introduced her to members of SlamCharlotte, a competitive, spoken word group. She began competing, placing in and winning various slam contests. She earned a spot on the 2008 Charlotte Slam team that went on to become national champions.

Today, Starr has her life and confidence back on track. She recently received a degree to work as a medical coding and billing specialist and is still competing. She hopes to someday teach poetry as a way to use words to create spiritual movements. She is also working with Restored Dreams and Urban Ministries to create a Slam Team comprised of displaced/homeless spoken word artists.

No matter where she goes in life, Starr knows her poetic roots will always be in Restored Dreams.

“As my career began building and goals became larger, Restored Dreams became my foundation and constant reminder that I come from humble beginnings. And in the performance industry where so often it’s dog-eat-dog to get to the top, because of Restored Dreams I always remember that the purpose of my poetry is to uplift to restore heart and hope, to restore my soul, and that dreams are not for fools – they are achievable and everything else is just glitter.”

Angel Williams, 34, joined Restored Dreams earlier this year. He does pencil and pastel drawings and started writing poetry in 2002 as a way of expressing himself during a difficult time he was enduring. Performing his work is an opportunity to let people know there is a different side to him that people don’t see on an every day basis.

“Some of my poetry consists of secrets and hidden struggles, a lot of things people can’t tell by looking me. They wouldn’t believe I have done drugs and lived under bridges. They can’t tell.”

For Williams, live performance is a cathartic, soulful experience and he says he feeds on the energy from the audience.

“Each crowd has a different energy, you can never dictate what it’s going to be like until you start speaking,” says Williams who recently entered his first poetry slam, winning third place.

“It actually feels like you’re by yourself no matter how many people are there, talking to or teaching yourself. It’s like spirit talking to you or vice versa. It’s all within, anything external doesn’t even exist at the time. It’s all about you.”

Rob estimates about 600 people have performed in the 26 shows Restored Dreams has done over the past five years. The group currently wows audiences at Wedgewood Baptist Church the first Friday of each month and at Mama’s Carribean on Central Avenue each Thursday with a show entitled “One Mic, One Love.” Shows start at 8pm and admission is $5. Many of Restored Dream’s visual artists will have their art available at the ArtWorks 945 annual auction at the Urban Ministry Center on September 11.

Rob’s vision for Restored Dreams is to take the project to other cities to reach the homeless and bring the community together. He’d like to have a sponsor and more volunteers to go on the road and use art to give others the strength to do their art.

“There are situations in life that sometimes break people,” says Rob. “I want to awaken people to use art as a tool to bring them back to their former state, back to who they really are.”

For more information about Restored Dreams, contact Joe Rob at 704-726-7759.

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