From Pushups to Photos

#MovementMakerTribe, it’s Veteran’s Day, a day we honor the incredible service and sacrifice of the men and women who have served in the United States Armed Forces, and I want to tell you about the movement to end veteran suicide, which has reached epidemic proportions.

Did you know that 22 veterans commit suicide every day? Brooke Brown came across this disturbing statistic on social media when she saw a post about the #22PushUp initiative. The campaign, organized by the nonprofit Kill22, asked people to post a video of themselves doing 22 push-ups and post it to social media. Their goal was to reach 22 million total pushups, and they quickly surpassed it.

Brooke couldn’t stop thinking about the #22Pushup challenge. While it was doing a great job of raising awareness, she knew that putting faces and names to the story would bring it to life even more. And the epidemic of veteran suicide really hit home because she lost her father to suicide on April 24, 2009. “That day—April 24—sticks out to me like Veterans Day,” she says.  Brooke’s passion became Hope 22, the traveling photography project she founded that features the photographs and stories of 22 veterans who have struggled with mental health yet found a way forward. It’s been exhibited at the National World War I Museum, at Kansas State University, and now it’s at the University of Kansas’s Spencer Museum of Art.

The powerful photographs in Hope 22 were captured by Steve Gibson and Chuoung Doan.

Move Toward Hope

The images and vignettes are incredibly powerful.  “I wanted every photograph to have shadows and light to show how you can move towards hope and away from darkness,” Brooke told me. “Each of these veterans’ stories shows that.” There’s a retired marine in the exhibit, and in the photo, he’s holding the bullet that went through his face. In the other hand is his Purple Heart. He lost 20 people he served with to suicide, and he’s working hard every day to overcome his own struggles. “Now he’s getting his master’s in engineering at the University of Kansas,” said Brooke, “and he wants to be remembered as a loving father and husband, not for the struggles he’s had as a veteran.” 

Another of the veterans featured in the exhibit runs a cross-fit training designed for veterans. Another found his hope in art therapy, while another runs an equine therapy program for his fellow veterans.

You Can Amplify A Movement

Hope 22 is an incredible and inspiring project, and it’s a wonderful example of amplifying an existing movement. Brooke saw an opportunity to take the #22Pushup Challenge even further, to tell a story, generate awareness, and connect veterans to local resources. These photos will speak loudly to anyone who has struggled with mental health, veterans and non-veterans alike.

To all the veterans out there, I am so appreciative and thankful for your service, and I’m grateful to Brooke and all the other incredible people working to transform the post-service experiences of veterans. #NeverForget

PS. I always love to share when I have a connection with someone doing good in the world. Usually, because they inspire me, but also so you can see that anyone can become a #Firestarter. Not only do Brooke and I share a birthday like the exact date and year (May 24th of some year *wink*), but we also worked together at the American Heart Association in the Austin office for years. I always knew Brooke was called to do something close to her heart. It is so nice seeing her do something that is her calling and sharing it with the world. I always say:

You’ve been moved to lead a change. To start something others have ignored. It’s your time—own it. 



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