Ginger Wagoner wasn’t sure what to expect a few years ago when she asked her then-10-year-old-daughter, Zoe Macomber, what she wanted to do over the upcoming summer break.
A beach trip? Concerts by her favorite artists? Hanging with her friends?
“Let’s do a festival for justice and the environment!” Zoe told her wide-eyed mom.
Given the flickering attention span and porous priorities of a typical 10-year-old, Wagoner gave her daughter a 24-hour “cooling off” period before revisiting the question. But Zoe was no ordinary 10-year-old, and it would be no ordinary summer.
The fifth-grader at Eastover Elementary in Charlotte collected more than $800 in donations from East Boulevard merchants to be raffled off at her FUN Festival (standing for “Fairness and Unity Now”), which raised nearly $2,500 for the Dilworth Soup Kitchen and Habitat for Humanity.
Inspired by her success, Zoe told Wagoner she wanted to make the festival an annual happening.
“But a tired mom suggested we find a more sustainable method to support the organizations we believe in without it taking months to prepare for a single-day event,” Wagoner says. “We decided what we really wanted was to get people talking and using social justice words more frequently and ‘seeding’ important ideas.”
Mother and daughter’s own important idea? Allow people to wear their commitment to social justice, literally. They created JusticeSeeders, an online business that sells apparel, jewelry and other items displaying messages of inclusion and tolerance.
JusticeSeeders products include “Celebrate Diversity” T-shirts; jewelry stamped with words such as “create,” “passion” and “courage”; and tote bags (made from recycled materials) sporting a global map made by arranging 18 words such as “inclusion,” “sustainability” and “worth.”
Zoe is now 13 and an eighth-grader at Alexander Graham Middle School in Charlotte and, with her mom, is even more committed to the causes of human trafficking prevention, clean water, education for girls and access to quality medical care for all, said Wagoner. Proceeds from the sales of JusticeSeeders items support nonprofits whose missions mirror the mother-daughter team’s passions.
Born in Chapel Hill, Wagoner, now 44, was raised in Charlotte. She majored in photojournalism and English at UNC Chapel Hill and worked with a celebrity photographer in New York City before returning to Charlotte. She now owns her own photography business, Photosynthesis Inc., and is project manager at The Olive Branch Center, a Charlotte-based organization that promotes “religious and spiritual inclusion.”
Wagoner graduated in 1989 from West Charlotte High School when it was still considered a model for integration nearly two decades after a U.S. Supreme Court’s Swann vs. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools decision made CMS the legal precedent for busing-based desegregation efforts nationwide. By the time Wagoner, who is white, attended West Charlotte, which had been an all-black school before Swann, it had become a magnet school and she did so by choice.
Wagoner said she believes now, as she did then, that learning among a diverse student population is an important part of the educational process, and that high concentrations of low-income students in some schools only perpetuates the cycle of poverty because those students are less likely to succeed academically.
Last August, Wagoner and her daughter both spoke before the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education, urging members to make diversity a priority in a school system that has become dominated by largely single-race schools.
“I think it’s really important for people my age to show the adults who make decisions that we care,” said Zoe of her activist pursuits. “These decisions affect young people, too, and they will continue to affect us for the rest of our lives.”
Mother and daughter say they are both angered and energized by what they consider intolerant rhetoric aimed at Muslims, immigrants and others.
“If we don’t take a stand now and show that we have an impact and are impacted, then we are also at fault when things don’t go the way they should,” Zoe said.
John Deem is a freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.
For information on JusticeSeeders and its merchandise, go to www.justiceseeders.com.