Circle of Mothers 2023: Reflections from the Democracy Team
Dear Democracy Family,
We write to you with gratitude and humility to share some highlights of our experience at this year’s Circle of Mothers Healing Retreat and the lessons we learned from it.
While it was our third year volunteering and contributing jeans, it was the 10th year Circle of Mothers has provided healing for mothers who’ve faced the unimaginable: the death of a child to senseless violence. What began as a literal dream Sybrina Fulton had one night after the loss of her own son, Trayvon Martin, has grown into an annual retreat of enduring depth and connection.
When we arrived this year to the Florida beachfront hotel, it felt like a homecoming. We were immediately greeted by the other Ambassadors, family and friends of Sybrina’s inner circle, who dedicate themselves to making the weekend run smoothly and showering the mothers with care. Dressed in Democracy jeans themselves, these women over the years have become like friends to us too.
They showed us to the room where we would welcome the mothers for their Jean Try-On experience and we started setting up. Then, mothers began to enter. Some who had given up on wearing jeans years ago were skeptical. Others showed immediate excitement. One by one, we would connect with each mother, get a sense of their personal style, and direct them to a starting pair and size to try. As they exited the dressing room, they’d look in the mirror, often with delight and a new sense of swagger. If the size and style wasn’t quite right, we would encourage them to try a new pair, insistent that they leave with something that lights them up.
On route to and from the dressing room and the mirror, some amazing things would happen. We would begin to hear their stories. Stories about their relationship with their bodies. Stories of their children, the ones they lost. Stories of their grandchildren, the ones who tell them they are too old to wear jeans but will now be proven wrong! We heard about court dates for trials. And foundations created to make a difference in their communities.
Feeling the comfort of our jeans, something we’ve begun to call “the jean embrace,” some would begin to cry. Others, especially those who came into the room with other mothers who have become like sisters year after year, giggled and laughed, feeling amazing in the jeans, cheering each other on and dancing a little jig. Sometimes they would give us a hug. Sometimes we would offer one. There was laughter, tears and everything in between.
Amid this “Jean Try-On” ritual, we learned some powerful lessons:
Lesson 1: Presence is Powerful
One of the most profound lessons we learned was of the transformative power of simply being present. Our care and support in listening to these mothers’ stories, while helping them discover their favorite pair of jeans, could of course never take away their pain. But our attention and interest in witnessing them in their full humanity, as mothers and as women, made an impact. We discovered that the act of truly seeing and acknowledging someone's grief can offer solace and remind them that they are not alone. In those moments, we experienced the healing power of human connection.
Lesson 2: Joy is a Birthright
Even in the midst of grief, we saw so many moments of happiness and laughter. These mothers, who have experienced unimaginable loss, taught us the importance of reclaiming joy. Especially in their physical bodies, which had endured so much, we saw what was possible when the women put on the jeans and felt comfortable, supported and confident. Their resilience and ability to find moments of lightness reaffirmed our belief in the human spirit's capacity to heal, feel whole, and find solace in community. The loss of a child does not mean that you need to lose yourself.
Lesson 3: We Can Make a Difference Together
The Circle of Mothers taught us the power of collective action. Individually, we may feel powerless, but together, we can create meaningful change. Witnessing the ways these mothers mobilize their grief into advocacy and action inspired us to reflect on how we can contribute. We saw that coming with jeans, helping women personally find their favorite, and most importantly, opening our hearts to them in the process mattered. We realized that our actions, no matter how small, can have a profound impact. Through their example, we were reminded that change begins with each one of us.
We hope these reflections give you some small sense of the power of these mothers, of the depth of connection possible when community comes together to heal, and how we each can play some part in making a difference. We invite you to learn more and to join our effort. Whether raising money through making a purchase at our website (where $1 of every order placed in the month of May goes to Circle of Mothers) adding on a donation at checkout, reading the story of Circle of Mothers alum Taun Hall in this post, or sharing about our month-long campaign on social media, you can have an impact too.
Democracy's Circle of Mothers' Ambassadors:
Caren Lettiere, Founder and President
Judy Owens, Vice President
Julie Neale, Social Impact Consultant