The Search for “Signs of Hope” In Ferndale

The Search for “Signs of Hope” In Ferndale

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By Jill Lorie Hurst
Photo by Bernie LaFramboise

THEY POPPED UP QUIETLY, SHORTLY AFTER THE 2016 PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION: THE SIGNS. A new group of signs that appeared as the campaign signs came down. Poster board with printed words that reminded us that we are a community,not only locally, but globally.

The first sign I noticed was the tri-colored, “No matter where you’re from, we’re glad you’re our neighbor”. A simple, powerful statement written in English, Arabic and Spanish. Once I noticed the first, I started to look for them – and there they were, all around town. That sign and others that expressed beliefs that support our freedoms and human rights for all.

I wanted one for my lawn, but couldn’t figure out how to get one without stealing it off a neighbor’s lawn. Sarah Lynn Fox liked the signs she was seeing, too. She and her husband, Brian Stawowy, noticed them as they walked their dogs around the neighborhood. Sarah said, “It made me feel so great to see all the signs…proud to live in Ferndale.”

She tried to get a “Hate Has No Home Here” sign, but it was back-ordered. Not one to sit and wait around for someone else to solve her problem, Sarah went online and found a web site (signsonthecheap.com) that allows you to create and print your own signs. She came up with a similar design and decided to print in bulk. She would make 100 signs and offer them to others, for free. “I wanted to spread a little bit of hope around the community.” A co-worker told her she was crazy: No one would want the signs. And what would Brian say? Sarah posted on the Facebook Ferndale Forum, and the response was overwhelming.

And although Sarah offered the signs for free, the community was all too happy to help finance the project. One person sent $200 dollars to help. Another person who contributed money doesn’t even live in Ferndale anymore, but liked the project enough to support it. By the time the signs came in, Sarah had a spreadsheet with 300 names on it, people waiting for signs.

The night she set out to deliver the first batch, Brian was with her all the way. It turned out to be quite an adventure. He smiles, remembering that first delivery outing. “It was fun. We got to learn a lot about the town.” They both mention “admiring their neighbors’ houses, the front yard gardens”. Brian said the best part was “us working together and meeting our neighbors face-to-face.” They loved the chance to get to know more about their adopted home town. People were friendly, inviting them in and sharing their Ferndale knowledge with them.

I was sure Sarah and Brian were native Ferndalians, but they both grew up north of the Detroit area, moving to the area for work (him) and grad school (her). They met downtown after a Tigers game. In 2013, when they decided to settle down together, they found their way to Ferndale because of easy access to Detroit and a dog-friendly community. Sign distribution is just one of the changes in their life since January. They’ve attended immigration marches and city council meetings. Sarah: “We didn’t know our congressional district or who our state representatives were until this year.” She added “If the election results had been different, our lives would be different.”

Along with the signs, Fox and Stawowy are circulating petitions to support “Voters, Not Politicians,” a ballot proposal to end gerrymandering in Michigan. It’s an important, non-partisan issue. “You have to start some-where,” says Fox. “We can no longer make excuses to not get involved.”

Sarah Lynn Fox and Brian Stawowy are living breathing “signs of hope” for our future. As I walked past their high-ceilinged home after our interview, I read their sign:
We Believe Black Lives Matter
No Human Is Illegal
Science Is Real
Women’s Rights Are Human Rights
Water Is Life • Love Is Love
Mother Earth Is Worth Protecting

Like a light in the window. Signs of hope in Ferndale.