• Taylor Stewart

Birmingham Blooms for Black Lives Matter

On Friday, June 5, over thirty different florists in Birmingham, Alabama gathered beneath the Magic City sign along the Rotary Trail. They each carried supplies, a mask, and of course, hundreds of flowers.

From a block away you can see the colors, from the pops of red and orange to the sweet blossoms of Lillies. The flowers are woven together, interlocked, holding each other up as they brave the wind and staunch Alabama heat. It’s a whole new symbol of unity in the city of Birmingham. If you live in the Magic City you know there's a mentality of #BhamStrong, a mantra that encourages people in the community to band together and support one another. This public installation is a symbol of love -- a symbol of hope.

The idea came when Wild Things owner and florist Carolyn Chen saw the aftermath of the protests in downtown Birmingham and across the United States, “I was an emotional wreck,” she said, “I knew I wanted to do something but I sat there feeling helpless thinking ‘What can I do?! I'm just a florist!’”

She pondered the meaning and power that flowers have. How there are so many reasons to display or share them, whether a loved one is experiencing grief or sadness, or you want to congratulate someone and spread joy. Chen knew deep down, “most of the country was probably grappling with similar emotions to mine.”

"I sat there feeling helpless thinking ‘What can I do?! I'm just a florist!" - Carolyn Chen

Carolyn Chen, owner of Wild Things

Due to COVID-19 many small businesses have either had to adjust their business model or completely close their doors to the public. It’s been a time for isolation, fear, and anxiety, and the pot boiled over with the recent death of George Floyd. “The wounds of systemic racism have been laid bare in our country. As we grieve the loss of yet another Black life in George Floyd's heinous death, we grapple with the roots of continued racial injustice,” said Chen.

“In ways that may be imperceptible, flowers help us remember the beauty and ephemeral nature of life, how delicate and fleeting life is ... and to embrace our unique beauty and that of others which

is extremely relevant right now.”

“We all have an opportunity to do what we can, in our own ways, with the gifts we have,” - Carolyn Chen

In a matter of three days Chen, Mary Cox Brown from Marigold Design, and three others contacted 50 florists to bring the installation to life. “It was truly an amazing community effort and experience,” Chen says, “All three of the city's wholesalers generously donated materials and supplies (Hall's Birmingham Wholesale Florist, Davis Wholesale Florist, and R & W Wholesale Flowers), I had gotten Rotary on board, and AG Event Design volunteered to bring a scissor lift!”

One of the most unique aspects of the installation was the design aspect. While the team had a general idea of the final outcome, “Each florist was able to express themselves in their own way during the installation and that was really beautiful.”

“We all have an opportunity to do what we can, in our own ways, with the gifts we have,” Chen says, “This was my way of sharing my gift with the city, to remember those who have been victims of racism.” The installation is a way to, “bring the community together to reflect, (to) be inspired, and learn from each other about how to move forward in a way that makes our city and state more just and equal.”

In times like these, Chen believes it is especially important for the small business community to rally together. In the past week, we’ve seen small business owners whose storefronts were affected by the recent protests speak out in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. Wheelhouse Salon owner, Johnny Grimes, recruited a local artist named Shane B. of Mammoth Murals & Signs to create a memorial for George Floyd. Another includes the retail store Charm on 2nd who posted on their Instagram page, “Lives are more important than material things. We will rebuild but lost lives can not be replaced."

It proves that in times such as these, there is always a community to lean on -- to help guide you into a brighter future. Even if you’re a hairstylist, a store owner, or yes -- a florist, you can use your strengths to lend a hand to others.

As for the future Chen and her team say, "We will continue to stand for what's right." By taking a stand and turning heartbreak into action, the team, "hopes of creating a lasting change, and hope the other small businesses of Birmingham will stand with us - like they did on Friday morning at the Rotary Trail."

Let this installation be an inspiration to you. Start thinking: how can you use your gifts to help others?

Photo by Kristina Balciunaite

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