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Strong Stories: Justine Fedak works with a duo dedicated to making a difference

Justine Fedak Joakim Noah his mother CéciliRodhe Bulls annual charity dinner Jan. 8 2013. | Ramzi Dreessen~Sun-Times

Justine Fedak, Joakim Noah and his mother Cécilia Rodhe at the Bulls annual charity dinner on Jan. 8, 2013. | Ramzi Dreessen~Sun-Times

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Updated: February 21, 2013 10:49AM

We’ve all had times in our lives when our hearts were so broken that we weren’t sure how they’d continue to beat. For me, that time was at the age of 21, when I lost my first love, who I’d planned to marry. He died senselessly and without warning in a car accident, and I never had a chance to say goodbye. Afterward, the pain seemed insurmountable, and I felt trapped in my own feelings of helplessness. But I learned that in order to heal, I needed to be able to express myself to someone, to find a witness to my wounds. I think self-expression is so important for anyone who’s suffering — we all need someone to validate that our pain is real.

Someone else who has this belief is Joakim Noah. When I met him six years ago, he really impressed me — he was articulate, passionate and committed to making a difference. And he did me a huge favor: He introduced me to his mother, Cécilia Rodhe, who immediately became one of my closest friends. Soon afterward, Cécilia talked to me about an idea she and her son had for a foundation — and before I knew it, she asked me to join the board of the Noah’s Arc Foundation. Founded by Cécilia, Joakim, his father Yannick and his sister Yelena, the organization is built on the principle of self-expression, and helps young people to find their inner confidence and purpose through sports and the arts.

Noah’s Arc began as a lifelong dream of a family that lives with passion. Joakim spent countless hours considering methods of curbing violence in Chicago, and felt our city’s children may have turned to violence because they were lacking an outlet to express their pain. He and his mother committed themselves to finding a way they might help Chicago’s youth share their feelings and find support. During one conversation, Cécilia (who’s a renowned sculptor and art therapist) had an idea: to create a program where children could participate in both art therapy and team basketball workshops. Through art, they could explore their feelings, and through sports, they’d learn about teamwork and about supporting one another.

The family’s dream soon became a collective reality for a small group of us. As we worked to build the framework for the foundation, we each took our own personal journey, sharing and bonding with each other along the way. I witnessed many wounds and explored my own, laughing and crying as I remembered my own pain and forged relationships with my fellow board members.

One day, as we worked, Cécilia opened up to me about her Drop of Consciousness necklace, a piece she’d crafted in the shape of a teardrop. She described it as a symbol of stopping senseless loss and violence through realizing the beauty of life, and said she wore it because it was her truth. When I held the necklace in my hand, it was heavy, and I couldn’t help but compare its weight to the burden of losing someone you love.

For me, this underscored the importance of lessening pain, stopping violence and spreading love to all mankind. I know that our city, our mayor and all of us at the foundation are committed to doing just that — and to creating a city we can be proud of, one where people feel safe. We all need to ask ourselves what we can do to contribute to this cause. Just one drop of consciousness is enough to help a seed grow. So I hope that you’ll join me and the rest of the aspiring gardeners at Noah’s Arc on this journey.

Justine Fedak donated her fee for this column to the Noah’s Arc Foundation. Visit or Cé for more information.

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