I have been a “fixer” for as long as I can remember. I first became conscious of this during the Live Aid concert, which aired when I was a little kid. I didn’t understand a lot, of course, but the images of those starving Ethiopian children sure struck me hard. The fact that these musicians were raising money to help those kids made me wonder what I could do to help them. I didn’t really act on this sentiment, though, until 2003. In the wake of 9/11 and all of the horrible news coming out of Iraq, I wanted to create something tangibly good in the world. I co-founded Homespun Helpers with a friend of mine.
The idea behind this online only group (Livejournal was the platform we started with) was pretty simple. Instead of just working by yourself to donate items to one cause or another, we wanted to tally the work of a whole bunch of people, with the goal of all of us contributing to make and donate 3,000 items in a year. After a brief hiatus of a couple years or so, I brought Homespun Helpers back to Facebook.
My dream has always been that Homespun Helpers would get enough notoriety so that if an organization needed homemade items, they would reach out to our network and we would be able to help where we are most needed. We are not to that point yet, but I still have hope that we will get there. In the meantime, we try to fill gaps as best we can.
The first really big gap we tried to fill came after the Boston Marathon bombings. There was so much fear and hatred in the air after that. Do you remember that? I posed the question to the group. Can we make something that would be given to the victims’ families, victims themselves, and the caregivers at the Boston hospitals where the victims were taken? From that question, Blankies for Boston was born. It has since branched out into another group. Within a day or so, we had 100 items on the new page. Currently there are 933 “fans” on that page. I am proud to have been a part of such a great effort.
It was that experience that inspired me to fill another gap more recently. When I heard about the shootings at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, my heart sank just as it did after the Boston shootings. The Marathon is certainly sacred to some people, but churches are known as safe spots. What could be more innocent than a prayer meeting?
The Boston Marathon bombings killed 3 people. The shooter in Charleston killed nine people. I figured if I could get an effort started there would be an even greater reaction than the one we got after the Boston tragedy.
It’s almost exactly two months later, and there are currently 69 “fans” of the page. For these efforts to work, it is not about one person trying to make 1,000 items. It’s about 1,000 people trying to make five items.
I do not want to imply that I do not appreciate the 68 people who joined the page to support the effort. The people who have made items (we’re at 13 so far) will forever hold my gratitude. But one person can only do so much. The hope was that we would be able to show solidarity in the face of race hatred. The hope was that we would be able to shower the congregation of that church with what I like to call “tangible love” – afghans, prayer shawls, and other hand-crafted items.
Some have suggested the name for the new effort (Love for the Lowcountry) isn’t as catchy as Blankies for Boston. Some have suggested that people have their own charities they are crafting for and those take the priority.
That could be so. To me, however, the silence is deafening, and I can only come to the conclusion that people were not as hurt, not as outraged, after the Charleston event as they were after the Boston event. Boston maybe was easier to get behind. A Muslim guy killing mostly white people is something we can all rail against. The Charleston shooting and the church fires that happened afterward, against a backdrop of cases like Trayvon Martin and Sandra Bland, perhaps make people face questions they do not want to ask. Crafting things for Black Americans who once again fell victim to race hatred may be too uncomfortable. If we craft for those victims, we have to acknowledge that they died, how they died, and why they died. Maybe that is too much for people to swallow.
I would love to hear other explanations as to why the need to heal was not as great after Charleston. You will have a hard time convincing me that racism – subtle and savage – was not at the heart of this mostly failed effort. I am heartbroken, to be honest, to see how few people were looking for a way to comfort that Charleston community. If they had been looking, they’d have found us.
Until we acknowledge racism in our country, we cannot kill it.