David Lionheart talks about ‘PTSD’ film and Play For Your Freedom

David Lionheart
David Lionheart. Photo Credit: Angela Shapiro

David Lionheart is a man of many talents: artist, author, entrepreneur, public speaker and philanthropist. He chatted with #Powerjournalist Markos Papadatos about his latest endeavors.

He works with veterans in Play for Your Freedom, the nonprofit he founded, which helps over 1000 vets in his area. His artwork also appears in the thriller “The Way Out,” which stars Emmy winner Mike Manning.

Can you tell us about the film on “PTSD: The Walking Wounded” that you produced? How did that come about?

Our organization Play for Your Freedom has been working in the Veteran space now for 10 years. The more time you spend listening to someone or some group the more you realize how complex the issues that they are facing can be, as well as the growing demands of their needs. Our team felt the overwhelming pressure that our Veterans were facing physically, mentally and spiritually.

Creating an educational tool for our world to use in order to learn what it was really like for these service members as well as their families with real stories told by the actual people would become a great start. We felt that if we can help the community understand better what these people had been through and live with on a daily basis we can create an organic sense of sympathy and a cultural shift to encourage everyone to ask “How are you doing today?” We want to remove stigma and misunderstanding and create a common ground for all people. 

Can you tell us about your work with Play For Your Freedom, where you work with veterans?

Our organization hosts fitness and peer to peer support events for all Veterans and their families. No matter your age or ability, you have a place and purpose at our Wellness Workshops. We hold an event for about three hours welcoming different hospital groups and veterans from the community. Two hours are dedicated to sports/art/activity and an hour to a shared healthy meal. We are a judgment free space that allows people to heal on their own timeline. Everyone has a chance to live a healthy and happy life, they just need a little more time and positive encouragement to get there. We provide that in our programming. 

What do your plans for the future include?

So far we have hosted over 5,000 veterans in our programming. Our plans for the future are to not change anything. We have stuck to our mission of keeping the Veterans first and that is why we are successful. We are all volunteers, including myself, so everyone is here because it’s in their hearts. That kind of love shows through in the interactions with the other Veterans and all who attend our programming. We want to continue to encourage people to be kind to one another whether they are a Veteran or not. 

What motivates you each day? (to do what you do)

My brother killed himself. I have lost so many veterans and some friends to the same battle. My motivation is clear. I want people to know that they are not alone, even in their darkest hour, and that we can work together to find something that makes someone want to push forward, to choose life and to live it to the fullest. I need to do the same thing for myself as well. We all need daily reminders to stay on track. 

Your paintings were featured in the film “The Way Out,” which was written and directed by Barry Jay… How did that feel?

I am just thankful to be creating. When my art leaves the studio it could blow out of the truck and into the Hudson River, it can become a gift, it can end up in someone’s home forever or contribute to the artist content of a film. I am just thankful to be creating. I have created almost 300 works in the past three years, and if I was not having those conversations with the canvas, I don’t know where my mind would be. It’s important to me that we help encourage young fearless artists in our communities.

Giving our youth a way to express themselves in a healthy positive way and in a way that gets their voices heard, with the powerful messages in their complex lives. 

How did it feel to give your own TED Talk “Waiting in the Waves”?

I was closing the show that night and I stood on stage for a moment and almost didn’t go through with it. The tipping point was understanding that if I did not share the experiences that I have been through then others would not be able to learn or grow from my story. Everyone has a story and it’s important that we listen to each other. That night I was able to go public with some tough moments in my life.

My mom was in the room and heard things that even she didn’t know. It was a night that changed my life, I was asking the people that I was helping in my wellness programming to be vulnerable and share, I was not doing it myself. That night I held myself accountable to do the same thing, and I am so glad I did. 

What would you like to tell our readers about the “PTSD” film that you produced?

I would encourage all to watch it, there is only real talk. It’s an intimate insight into people’s lives that we normally might not get a glimpse into. Everyone can look to the left or right of them and have someone in their life who is suffering from depression or recovering from a traumatic situation. The more we listen, the more we learn and the better we can help one another. 

Most recently, Lionheart and Super Bowl champ Gary Brown were featured on “The Donna Drake Show,” hosted by Donna Drake, which airs on CBS New York, where they spoke about Brown’s book “Reflections of a Champion,” which Lionheart co-authored. Both Brown and Lionheart have dedicated their time working with charities and helping youths in America.

To learn more about David Lionheart, follow him on Instagram.