By Heidi Stevens Chicago Tribune
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Ferri Picket is designing custom buttons with any message of unity and peace. As Heidi Stevens reports, "she'll donate any proceeds to organizations that help bail out protesters and rebuild black-owned businesses that were harmed by looting."
It grew, like so many beautiful things do, from a low, dark place.
Ferrai Pickett, who is black, was working as a nanny for two white families in Chicago's Ukrainian Village neighborhood three years ago when a racist note showed up in the mailbox of Heather DeJonker, one of the moms.
"Honestly, you need to fire her because otherwise it looks like she is your modern-day mammy," the note read. "Please take heed to the advice being shared in this letter, find a new nanny. We do not need an infestation in our community."
The letter writer used racial slurs. It was signed, "Concerns Ukrainian Village Moms."
"I've worked in the neighborhood for 3 1/2 years, and this is my first experience with racism here, I can honestly say," Pickett told me at the time. "It was shocking and a little heartbreaking to know there's a person or people in the neighborhood who feel that way."
DeJonker filed a police report and alerted her alderman. She posted a note on a neighborhood website explaining what had happened. A neighbor suggested they respond with a giant, racially diverse play date.
The annual Stand Up To Hate Play Date was born.
Close to 200 people showed up during the first play date in 2017, and Pickett, DeJonker and co-organizer Maria Ippolito have hosted one every October since. They grow a little bigger each year, with local bakeries donating treats, and local artists and children's musicians adding their talents to the festivities.
This year ... well, it's complicated.
Even if Illinois has entered phase four under the state's coronavirus response plan by October, gatherings will still be limited to 50 or fewer people.
Pickett isn't looking to run afoul of public health recommendations or put anyone at risk, she told me Monday. But she's also looking around and thinking a Stand Up To Hate Play Date feels pretty timely right about now.
"If we really want to make a change, it's going to start with the kids," Pickett, 26, said. "It starts with teaching love and unity at home."
For some of the early play dates, Pickett made buttons, using an old-fashioned, hand-press button maker, to give out to attendees. Some said "black lives matter." Some said, "kind is the new cool." Some said, "black boy joy." Some said, "peace, love and unity."
When protests erupted around the world in response to the killing of George Floyd, Pickett started cranking out buttons in double time. She added a few more designs to the mix: "Justice for Ahmaud." "Justice for George." "Justice for Breonna." She posted the designs on her Facebook and Instagram pages and offered to mail them to anyone who wanted one.
"It's a physical representation of alliance," she said. "You can wear love on your sleeve. Some people have yard signs. Some people are vocal on Facebook. A button is a great way to show people, as soon as they meet you, 'I'm an ally. I'm a welcoming person.' People see your button and know immediately where you stand."
She started receiving requests on Facebook from people in New Jersey and North Carolina and Australia. She realized she couldn't afford to keep making and shipping the buttons for free. She set up an Etsy page, and now she sells the buttons for $3.50 each.
She'll design custom buttons with any message of unity and peace. She said she'll donate any proceeds to organizations that help bail out protesters and rebuild black-owned businesses that were harmed by looting.
Pickett still works as a nanny in Ukrainian Village. Her current gig is for a family with a 10-month-old baby. She makes the buttons while the baby naps.
"Nannies play a big role in children's lives," she said. "A lot of adults like to say, 'I don't see color.' But kids do. One of first questions I always get is why am I brown. It leads to deeper conversations, and those conversations need to continue."
Pickett encourages the families she encounters at work and at the annual play date to diversify their kids' bookshelves, diversify the artists whose work they surround their children with, diversify their kids' and their own friend groups.
"We can't sit back and wait for change to magically happen," she said. "It's an active job. It's an active fight."
And love will win it a whole lot faster than hate. ___ Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.