Oak Ridge, TN Paints Over Pain from Bullying, NIOT

Oak Ridge, TN Paints Over Pain from Bullying

Valerie Hughes, Not In Our Town Oak Ridge, TN

Valerie Hughes and a participant. Photos by Pam Allen-Ellis

Valerie Hughes stood in Bissell Park in Oak Ridge, TN watching an 8-year-old paint scars onto the faces, necks and hands of anyone who would sit still long enough. “This is what bullying looks like,” he told his human canvass.

Valerie and her local Not In Our Town group managed to pull the young and old of Oak Ridge into a community event called Paint Over Pain on Oct. 25 to celebrate that “we are all ‘flawesome.’”

Not In Our Town Oak Ridge was sparked by Valerie after her daughter was assaulted in a classroom. Through the group, Valerie and community members sought ways to promote change in Oak Ridge. Paint Over Pain is their first community event. “If you’re a bystander, we want to turn you into upstanders; if you’re a victim, we want you to become a survivor; if you’re a bully...cut it out!” Valerie said.  

Paint Over Pain was a collaboration between the Not In Our Town group and a local paint studio in Oak Ridge, Painting With A Twist. Studio owner Patty Peden-Walden contributed dozens of template canvasses from the studio. From there, Jamon Scott of the band The Toluenes contacted Valerie, requesting that the group take pictures of the event to be featured in his upcoming music video for his song, “Let Me Be.” According to Jamon, the song was inspired by the NIOT movement in Oak Ridge and discusses safety, tolerance and inclusion. He performed the song at Oak Ridge’s National Night Out on Oct. 1.

‘We Really Need Things Like This’

Dissappearing Pain activity with Not In Our Town Oak Ridge

When the day arrived, Valerie was surprised to find the diversity among the crowd that gathered for Paint Over Pain. The event was targeted for young and middle school-aged children, but also attracted high schoolers and recent graduates. The main attraction at the gathering was the “painting over pain” activity, where participants painted messages of hope onto the canvasses donated by Painting With A Twist.  

“Disappearing Pain,” an activity replicated from the popular Not In Our School “Dissolving Stereotypes” activity became one of the most emotional moments of day. “Disappearing Pain” is an exercise that ask participants to write messages or words that negatively affected them. The words are then dissolved into a pool of water. “What surprised me was how serious this event had turned,” Valerie said. “There were some young ladies who were writing messages down on small pieces of paper, and turning them over so nobody could see. It was as though they were sending prayers into the sky.”

When asked what her favorite moment of the event was, Valerie said that it occurred as the event was coming to a close.  A young man approached Valerie and her team and asked,  “What did I miss?”

Valerie explained their mission and what had occurred there. The young man replied, “We really need things like this in my community.”

With the majority of the supplies put away, it was too late for him to paint a message himself, but Valerie couldn’t allow for the young man to escape. She gave him a painting that she had painted to hold, and the photographer Pam Allen-Ellis crouched below him with the sun behind her. Holding a painting with the words to the last line of Scott’s song “Let Me Be” the painting read, “Let me be me.”

Looking Forward

Not In Our Town Oak RidgeOne month after Paint Over Pain, Valerie hopes that the event will be picked up by communities around the country, “It’s very inexpensive and it’s easy to do,” Valerie said. She plans on visiting local businesses and asking them to post the paintings in their stores.

Currently, Valerie and Not In Our Town Oak Ridge are communicating with Scott about helping him shoot footage for his music video to accompany the pictures taken from Paint Over Pain. Not In Our Town Oak Ridge’s success has even managed to attract the attention of the U.S. State Attorney in Tennessee, who came to the community to see what Valerie and Not In Our Town Oak Ridge managed to accomplish in their short time.

Still inspired by the success and her experience from Paint Over Pain, Valerie shared a message for every community leader. “People in your community have something great and meaningful to say,” Valerie said, “we must give them an opportunity to say it.”

What will you do to give people a voice within your community?

Visit Not In Our Town, Oak Ridge’s Facebook page.


I was surprised by the thought that everyone from young to old put into what they wanted to put on their canvas. It was a beautiful day and I was touched by the messages that each person wrote. Since I was there to witness the thought process, the time spent picking paint, and the look on their faces as they put their message on a painting they selected, several paintings stood out to me and their message resonants with me months later. What an impact! I cannot wait for the next event and see what blessing just being there will bring. 

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