Denver church joins national art movement on impact of gunfire

First Baptist of Denver has its Soul Boxes on display

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In the halls of the First Baptist Church of Denver in Capitol Hill are stacks of small origami boxes. Church members and nearby residents alike came together to make more than 800 of the boxes, with each one representing a child under the age of 18 that was killed by gunfire in the United States so far in 2019.

The boxes are part of a national art movement out of Portland, Oregon called the Soul Box Project. The boxes are supposed to give people a more tangible representation of just how many lives are affected by gunfire, said Nanci Tangeman, the safe communities liaison and communications lead for Soul Box.

“You can say 3,600 people died, and people will say ‘Wow that’s a lot of people,’” she said, adding “or you can say 36,000 people died and people will still say ‘Wow that’s a lot of people.”

Brian Henderson, a senior minister at First Baptist, said the display has created a “snowball effect” as soon as people began to understand what the church was doing. A few members of the church moved to Denver from Oregon. After the couple returned home from a visit to Oregon, they told the church about Soul Box, and the community wanted to be involved.

“It’s touching people in ways that we didn’t expect them to be touched,” Henderson said.

Portland artist Leslie Lee first launched the Soul Box Project after the mass shooting in 2017 at a Las Vegas concert. She chose to make the boxes out of paper because it was an item accessible to everyone, Tangeman said. Boxes can be made for people who were killed or injured by gunfire, as well as suicides by guns. She added that making the boxes can be therapeutic for friends and family impacted by gun violence.

Since 2017, the project has received more than 72,000 boxes from across the country.

On April 18, volunteers from First Baptist will bring Soul Boxes to the state Capitol building. The same year, the national project will take all of its collected Soul Boxes to the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

Tangeman said the goal of the project is not to lobby for gun control at a federal level. Instead, the goal is for each person who sees the project to take one personal action, whether that’s locking their personal guns away to keep them safer, speaking to local government about gun laws or reaching out to people in distress.

“Whatever that one personal action is, that’s what we want people to take,” she said.

Henderson said the project can help bridge the gap between some of the partisanship that comes with gun control. It personalizes the reality and gives people a place where they can connect in solidarity.

“At one level (Soul Box) is creating a community that is a safe place for one, people to be more aware and two, for people for feel more connected,” he said. “It’s connecting us with a heart of a country that’s struggling with what to do with this epidemic.”

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