CEDARBURG — “Love is universal.” It was meant to be a message of kindness and tolerance.
“It's about love. It's about acceptance. It's not a political message. They are not - they weren't teaching anything. It was simply a mural showing in their minds that love is universal because they are young, and they are still positive," Laurie Ritchie, whose daughter worked on a Cedarburg mural, said.
The Student Acceptance Team at Cedarburg’s Webster Middle School chose the slogan to promote a positive message for a school mural. The design features people of all colors holding hands. There are also pride flags reflecting the LGBTQ plus community.
“We have this, this special group of kids that are feeling like maybe they don't have a place. Maybe they're not an athlete, or maybe they're not musical, or maybe they just don't know where they fit in yet. Having a group like this that's available to them, to help them to feel like they are accepted for whoever they ar that is really, really important.” explains Rachel Arroyo, the owner of Cedarburg Threads.
But some people objected to the message and the mural was removed, the district cited improper approval method.
Ritchie said, “It wasn't meant to be controversial. It was just saying, Hey, we are here. And we exist to and we are also part of this planet in this world. We also want to feel loved and accepted. And at first, of course, I was upset and I was angry. But right away, that doesn't help. That doesn't help anything. We had to turn the focus right around to okay, what are we going to do now? How are we going to support these kids? How are we going to let them know that they are accepted. They are loved. They are valued members of this community, and that's just - keep going forward with us. And, you know, we just kept plugging away and figuring it out - still figuring it out piece by piece.”
So the two moms turned that rejection into a positive. The messages now adorn shirts and other apparel at Cedarburg Threads, a clothing store in Cedarburg.
Rachel Arroyo runs the online store. She got involved because of her friend Laurie Ritchie.
“It was a really easy decision to make. I've had a store for almost two years now. And it's an online only store, so I sell apparel and accessories already. So when my friend Laurie told me about what was going on with the mural, and with the kids, I knew that I could help very easily," Arroyo said.
Laurie Ritchie's daughter helped to paint the mural. She says the kids worked hard on the giant message.
Both mothers were concerned with how young students would handle the rejection of their work.
“I feel very strongly as a mom that it's our duty to get involved as adults. That was an easy decision on that end. Because anytime I can do something to support kids, I'm going to, especially as a former teacher, with social media, the pressures that kids have, they're things that we didn't have growing up.”
The student's artwork has a new life in Arroyo’s store.
The response has been great.
“I have never had so many personal messages sent to me through my store. People will send messages through Facebook or Instagram or just through an email to me on their order forms. They're writing notes to me thanking me for my involvement. Words of encouragement have come from all over the country and the world, not just in Cedarburg," Arroyo said.
Ritchie adds, “They've had messages from England from Vietnam, like they have seen international support. Social media support is strong."
I've been getting pictures from people on social media of them wearing their t-shirts. I just posted one the other day on my Instagram and Facebook account of a woman in front of - in Washington DC wearing her t-shirt. Another woman from San Diego sent me a picture, and they're saying the same thing. We want this to spread. We want people across the country. I guess, the power of social media. I guess this is an opportunity for us to use it in a positive way and just show people what's going on here in Cedarburg and all the positivity we're generating. And that couldn't be a better message for kids to take away," Arroyo said.
The students plan to use the money raised to promote understanding and perhaps form a national club and maybe even offer scholarships.
“Because it made more than anticipated, immediately the kids and the moms in the club were like, what do we do with all this money? How do we pay it forward? It wasn't like what are we going to do? What can we spend this all on? It was like Who else can we share this with?" Ritchie said.
And the two moms are grateful that people near and far are letting students know that Love really is universal.
“Love thy neighbor, let's all get along. Let's all take care of each other.