On November 11 of last year, equipped with a small clipboard, some index cards and a handful of pens, Destinee Wright waited outside the Paramount Theater after a discussion with Spike Lee about race and racial injustice in America, followed by a screening of two Lee documentary films, I Can’t Breathe and 4 Little Girls.
The mood was somber as Wright approached a few filmgoers and asked them to write down on index cards how they were feeling and what was on their minds after seeing the documentaries. Some of the replies were heavy, others were hopeful.
One person leaned on the small clipboard and wrote: “Receive Love. Be Love. Share Love. Repeat. Love is Kind. Love always hopes. Love always perseveres.”
“There’s power in writing your feelings down,” says Wright, an artist who owns and operates Luxie Hair Services, a mobile hair extension and braiding studio. It’s affirming, it’s healing, and it can create a sense of solidarity among people just by opening up a conversation.
Wright began this initiative, now called the Solidarity Cards Project, in November 2016, soon after Donald Trump was elected president. She was a student at the time, and attended a coming together hosted by UVA’s Office of African American Affairs, during which students of color shared what they had experienced and had been feeling in the days since the election. One student spoke of being chased on Grounds; another spoke of seeing a monkey hanging by a rope from a tree, Wright recalls.
Moved by her classmates’ stories, Wright wanted to get these students’ voices out to the rest of the campus while maintaining a safe space for openness and honesty. She remembered a project she’d learned about, El Tendedero/The Clothesline Project, which began in Mexico City in 1978 when Monica Mayer asked women to write down their experiences with sexual assault and then clipped the anonymous pink index cards to a clothesline.
Wright grabbed a stack of index cards from her desk and asked students in her feminist theory class to write down what had been weighing on their hearts post-election. She asked them to be personal, to be honest. She collected more replies from students in other classes.
“I felt like such a crazy person, collecting these cards and not knowing what I was going to do with them initially,” says Wright. She brought her clipboard to the Women’s March in Washington, D.C., on January 21, 2017 and to a Charlottesville community healing event after August 12. She’s offered cards to her hair clients, and while at the Afropunk festival in Atlanta in October, she cut up cardstock from a vendor booth for an on-the-fly alternative.
“I’m afraid he’ll allow the world to burn.”
“Ending the drug war will end overdose and mass incarceration.”
“I just want people w/ HIV/AIDS to not be forgotten about in healthcare reform.”
“What is it going to take? How many more people have to die due to gun violence in the U.S. for the government to take ACTION?! [sic] Less guns = less death.”
“I feel detached from many political/social issues that are personal to so many people. I hope to encounter more and more avenues that bring these issues close to home for me.”
Others are longer:
“As a Baptist minister and a woman I am heartbroken and so angry about Donald Trump’s rhetoric. His white supremacy, xenophobia and sexism are not consistent with my beliefs. I have been fighting as hard as I can against the Trump agenda.”
“As an African-American woman who grew up in [The South] only seeing images and video of protesters during the civil rights movement, I never thought I would be in the position to counter-protest white terrorists in my own town. As a mother of children with brown skin, I am terrified of Donald Trump’s America.”
There are cards bearing pro-Trump responses, too, and Wright plans to include them in an exhibit at The Bridge Progressive Arts Initiative on Saturday, January 20.
So far, she has collected about 300 cards—all of them anonymous, each of them different, many of them posted to the project website and social media accounts—and she’ll install the physical cards at the pop-up event.
Wright hopes that the Solidarity Cards Project will spark conversations—the seemingly small act of reading a single card is, in its own way, a conversation with a complete stranger, and the installation in The Bridge’s small-ish gallery space will offer ample opportunity for conversation among those who attend.
“There’s so much power in just having a discussion,” says Wright. “Even if you don’t have the same views as someone, be open to talking…because you can’t grow, you can’t heal, you can’t have any understanding unless you talk to someone.” And writing it down is a good first step.