Written by Lauren Bryant
On Martin Luther King Jr. Day 2016, Amy Cornell was learning to weave stars with her 6-year-old daughter at the Mathers Museum of World Cultures. The star-folding scene was the official launch of the year-long One Million Stars to End Violence: Lotus International Star-Weaving Project.
Amy and I are long-time participants in Women Writing for (a) Change® Bloomington, and together, we coordinate a weekly writing circle for women incarcerated in the local jail, the Monroe County Corrections Center. In these circles, we read poetry, write together, share our words, and sometimes use drawing or other art activities as a way of sparking our creative spirits.
“I started thinking about the meaning behind the stars,” Amy recalls. “One Million Stars to End Violence. I thought about the group of women we serve in the corrections center and felt with certainty that almost every one of them lives with or has lived with violence.”
If ever there was a group that should take part in the star-weaving project, Amy thought, it is incarcerated women. So, with ribbons generously supplied by the Lotus Arts and Education Foundation, Amy and I and other volunteers began incorporating the star-weaving activity into our writing circles.
Amy was right. The women immediately responded to the project. They loved the colorful ribbons (with the exception of orange suits, jail is a dull gray place), but more than that, the women responded to the mission of Australian artist Maryann Talia Pau.
Pau, who started the One Million Stars to End Violence project in 2012, says the project is “an opportunity for us to be light and hope in the world and to make something beautiful and powerful together.” It is an opportunity, she says, “to remind each other that we can do something about violence. … Every woven star reminds us that we have to make peace, that it doesn’t just happen.”
Making the stars takes practice, it doesn’t just happen. But the women in the Monroe County jail persisted in learning. We don’t weave stars every week, but over the last six months, the women have welcomed every chance to create colorful stars. One woman was so inspired that she has taken to weaving stars out of newspaper strips.
Above all, the women have resonated with the knowledge that the stars they create are going out into the world as a symbol of hope. In an installation at the 23rd Lotus World Music & Arts Festival, at an exhibit at Bloomington City Hall in December, and as part of a worldwide installation of 1 million stars in 2018 at the Commonwealth Games in Australia — the women’s stars will move freely even though the women cannot.
We’ve woven 88 stars together so far. Some weavers have inscribed their stars with messages: “I love you.” “Sobriety.” “Compassion.” “Break free.” “Hope.”
Each or our writing circles opens with a poem. At the first circle where we introduced star-weaving to the women incarcerated in the jail, we read a poem called Threads of Hope, by Shirley Vogler Meister. It reads, in part, “Some souls/fall through the holes into despair/and confusion and suffering./…We teach them to make their own shawls,/to become the threads that bind us, one to another—with trust, with love.”
Within the flat gray walls of the county jail, for a few minutes on a Saturday afternoon, a circle of women creates some threads of hope. We’ll keep writing and weaving.
Women Writing for (a) Change® Bloomington is part of a national network of writing schools that provide opportunities for individuals to craft more conscious lives through the art of writing and the practices of community. Learn more at http://womenwritingbloomington.org/