Another holiday has come and gone, and I’m wondering how much we will carry forward from this one. The gifts of this holiday are less tangi-ble, but I believe they are far more valuable than anything that comes wrapped in a pretty package, if we will only embody and utilize them throughout the year. I’m referring, of course, to Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday this past weekend, in which we celebrate King’s efforts to bring unity and respect for all the citizens of our country.
I hope that as you read this you are remembering the inspiration you experienced during the slate of wonderful MLK weekend festivities that the organizers put on here in Rome. They do a tremendous job and I always come away energized to continue the work of peaceful progression that MLK preached. Oh, did you think that the need for MLK’s work was over? It is not, and in many ways I believe we are even more in need of action now than ever before.
I have a friend, Lori Barfield, who has been making these interesting leather cuffs from old belts for several years. The cuffs are decorated with metal emblems that are stamped with inspirational words intend-ed to motivate and inspire the wearer to act and feel accordingly. I have one of the early models that I have worn over and over again that reminds me to “Let It Shine” in reference to the song “This Little Light of Mine.” When I am wearing it I am reminded not only that I have that little light in me, but that I have the ability to shine with it no matter how dark the circumstances.
Lori has grown the project to the point that most of the cuffs are now being made by women living in Collique, Peru, a deeply impoverished community where access to basics like food, water, education and health care are difficult at best. The opportunity to build this cottage industry is allowing these women to improve their lives, and the lives of their families and neighbors, in ways they could never have imagined. It is an inspiring story, and I am so proud of all of the good that Lori has instigated through this project. The power of her work goes well beyond the motivational words the cuffs carry.
Several months ago, Lori posted a picture of some really cool leather she had found that was stamped with acorns and oak leaves. I immedi-ately fell in love and told her that I needed a new cuff made from that leather. She suggested a metal piece shaped like a flying bird to match the natural theme. I loved that idea, but struggled with what inspiring words I would want. I thought of the symbolism of the acorn seed that, when planted, results in the growth of a new tree, that then goes on to produce more seeds and more trees and so on, each forever reaching for and slowly progressing toward the sky. I thought about the winged bird, soaring to a higher perspective, achieving new heights by stretching its wings and taking a risk. The words on that cuff needed to reflect the on-ward and upward progress that the physical elements of the cuff repre-sented.
The words that kept popping in my head when I considered the lofty implications were the lyrics “Rise up” from the musical “Hamilton,” but given the meaning of the words in the song, it felt too aggressive. My peaceful approach to change made it hard for me to be comfortable with such a strong battle cry. I didn’t want to have such a combative thought in my head as I went about my daily interactions, but then I thought about MLK.
In the song in “Hamilton,” the words represent a violent revolution, and rightfully so. Strong action was required at the time to bring our nation out of tyrannical rule. The risks taken in that uprising were necessary to defend the higher ideals our founding fathers had for what our country could be. The Atlanta Falcons use the words (so far, inef-fectively) to rally their fans and push the team to victory in helmet-clashing, bone-crushing play. (Maybe next year.) These words easily connote a fist-raised call to aggressive action, but in MLK’s most famous speech, he used the words to promote a higher calling for our country.
“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “‘We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.’”
When I wear the words “Rise up” on my leather cuff, I am imagining our potential to rise above petty concerns, cruel words and combative interactions to a higher calling, one in which we can see each and every human as worthy of respect and deserving of success. When I think of the acorn taking root, I imagine the strength it shows in pushing through the muck, weathering the elements and rising to become a benefit to all around it. And when I think of MLK’s words, I will remember that our founding fathers called us to great deeds of inclusion and respect for those around us. May we all “Rise up” to meet our potential.
On Feb. 7 at 6 p.m. in the Wilder Center at Rome First United Methodist Church, 202 E. Third Ave., One Community United will host Peggy Wallace Kennedy, daughter of former Alabama Governor George Wallace, as the keynote speaker of the Fourth Annual Hearts United Gathering (HUG IV). Kennedy will speak about what it was like to grow up in the shadow of her father's message of segregation and how she decided to rise up in promoting a message of unity and reconciliation. Change is possible, even in the most unlikely places, when you decide to rise up to a higher perspective.
Monica Sheppard is a freelance graphic designer, beekeeper, mother and community supporter living in Rome.