Interview with Jason Blades of To Write Love on Her Arms17 September 2014 / by Luke Williams (author)
While I was covering Riot Fest the opportunity came around to interview Jason Blades, a music and events coordinator for the American non-profit organization To Write Love on Her Arms. He told me all about the organization, what they are out to do and how they are doing it. The following is our conversation:
Luke Williams: Tell me about the organization and the mission statement?
Jason Blades: The mission statement of the organization is that we are a non-profit movement that is dedicated to presenting hope and finding help for those that are struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury and suicide. We also exist to encourage, inspire and inform and invest directly into treatment and recovery. We started out of attempt to try and help a friend, to tell her story and sell some t-shirts to help pay for her treatment and encourage her and others through her story. We put it up online and we herd from people over the world and the U.S who really responded to her story. What we realized is that one person’s story turned out to be a lot of peoples. And we just wanted to help them and help all those who are struggling.
LW: I had heard at one point there was a plan to turn it into a movie, how has that been going?
JB: Yeah I can’t tell you officially but there is a movie [being made] and the release is looking like it is coming out towards the springtime. It is not going to be a full movie release but it will be a digital release along with the soundtrack. It ran into some trouble just because the guy who was helping to produce it and fund it passed away and obviously that makes it very difficult. There has been some new life into the movie and while we are not producing it and funding it there is a company that has decided to pick it up and is doing some cool stuff with it.
LW: Cool! So you got involved with the organization in 2009 as an intern, why did you decide to stay along?
JB: So I finished my internship and they asked me if I would be willing to do some stuff for them in the summer, my internship was for the spring to the summer. So I was like, “yeah I’ll stay on.” So I stayed on for the summer and did a festival called Warped Tour and after that I went on to finish college. As time went on I finished my degree and I was looking at jobs and I reached out to them because I was passionate about mental health and I wanted to know if there was any way I could help out. Turns out they wanted to hire me as an events coordinator alongside another guy named Chad, who works with me. [We] manage the organization at all of these festivals and events that we do; music festivals, conferences and Christian events that we do in the U.S all over the world.
LW: Brining up the title of events coordinator you spend more time out of the office at all of these events. I’d imagine you have met a lot of people with powerful stories?
JB: definitely! A big part of the privilege and honour we have as an organization is well we are trying to connect people to help and talk about things that are hopeful we get to hear from people all the time talking about their stories, or how this has helped them or what they have been through. Like I said, [it] is an honour and a privilege for us as an organization to see and feel that. Also how those people who have lived those stories are able to affect change in their communities, which is really at the heart of what the organization is about.
LW: One of the big things that you do is the Fears vs. Dreams campaign. It has been at all the festivals I have been to, tell me about that?
JB: Part of the organization’s goal is the challenge the stigma that surrounds mental health. That is what often prevents someone from reaching out for help because they feel alone or ashamed. What we try to do is come up with creative ways to tackle that stigma. One of these ways is the idea of Fears vs. Dreams, two simple questions: What are you afraid of? What are your dreams? We ask them in a place that people might not normally be asked at festivals and online and we are hoping that that inspires a sense of confidence and community if they read the fears and dreams of others. It is just a simple idea that has taken a new life and it has been incredible.
LW: I would imagine that you see a lot of repeat dreams and fears?
JB: Exactly! That is part of the beauty of the program is that throughout the day we collect all of the fears and dreams and make them visible for all to see and a lot of times there are repeat fears and dreams. The hope is that someone might see the same fear and dream and feel a sense of community or less alone. The two biggest fears and dreams we get is that they end up alone and to just be loved.
LW: Another big event that you have started in 2007 after the tragic passing of Casey Calvert (of Hawthorne Heights fame) called Heavy and Light tell me about that?
JB: Heavy and Light Started out of a response to Casey Calvert’s passing but also the idea that life can be heavy but it is also light. There are dark places that are minds can go but there is also the hopeful side of it. Now we do it in two cities, we did it one year in 17 cities. It is the idea of music and conversation and a night of hope. We always partner with musicians who have a deep connection to what we are doing. Then we have a mental health councilor who speaks and educates people on the issues.
LW: You get a lot of musicians who volunteer. How do you get those Musicians to take part?
JB: The Beauty of the conversation that we are trying to start is that it resonates with people. We don’t pay musicians to support us; it is truly a friendship and mutual understanding. They see the message that we are trying to promote and they want to help. They recognize that they have a platform to help, a stage, a microphone and social media to tell people about us, Jessica Chastain (Actress,) was wearing one of our shirts when she did the ice bucket challenge and the ability that has for something great is awesome. She could wear any shirt she wants and the fact that she chose us and to bring it back to music all the musicians that we work with and will continue to work with believe in what we are doing and we believe in what they are doing with their music so it is a symbiotic relationship.
LW: World Suicide Prevention Day is Wednesday [September 10] what do you guys have planed?
JB: Leading up to it we have got this campaign and a shirt at our tent that says, “no one else can play your part.” For us it is this idea that you need to be alive because no one else can be you and that is important to you and everyone else around you. The whole campaign is based around the fact that no one else can play your part or my part; we are both living stories unique to themselves, which are equally important. Leading up to Wednesday we have content going up on our site meant to inspire. We have bloggers, musicians and celebrities that are trying to rally and support the message that no one can fill your role.
LW: You have also spread out to University campuses, colleges and the likes, what lead to that?
JB: We are just trying to meet people where they are at. A natural progression of that was at colleges and high schools. Part of it was that we had a lot of youth asking us how they could get involved and bring our message to their campus so we realized that we needed to develop a program that is able to do that. So we came up with a program called the UChapters, which is our college program and also The Storytellers, which is our high school program. They look different but they are built on the idea of educating communities and bring the ideas of hope and help so when someone in the community is struggling they are able to better address it and get them the help that they need.
LW: Lastly what advice would you give to somebody who is struggling with mental health, suicide or addiction?
JB: I would say don’t be scared, you are not alone. Speak up; talk to a parent a teacher or a friend. If you notice a friend is struggling maybe offer to go with them to get help. Community is an important part; there are lots of great services offered in the community you just have to find them. We have resources on our website twloha.com where you can find help in your community.
The Centre for Student Development and Counselling at Ryerson has compiled a booklet of resources for members of the community who are in crisis. You can access this material here.