Personal anguish made way for compassion for former St. Thomas resident Jackie Xavier.
Through her company Mama2Mama (M2M) Gifts, Xavier has created Project 6IX, including community-based initiatives revolving around the issue of domestic violence on St. Thomas, St. Croix and in Chicago.
Xavier lived on St. Thomas for seven years. She evacuated and returned to her hometown of Chicago with her two-year-old daughter Lena days after Hurricane Irma swept over the island in 2017.
After her daughter’s birth, Xavier had been silently struggling with depression and anxiety. After Irma, she decided to share her story on Facebook.
The response was an outpouring of stories of heartbreak and healing. Mothers shared their stories about postpartum depression, miscarriage, the loss of a child and other struggles.
Gathering their stories, Xavier started a small Etsy-based business she called M2M Gifts (Mama 2 Mama), creating care packages for women going through difficult times. In each package, she also includes a note with the story of another woman, anonymously, who shared a similar story on Xavier’s Facebook page.
“These are care packages you can send to a loved one when you don’t have the words to comfort them,” she said. “There’s something powerful about hearing from a stranger going through the same thing as opposed to a loved one or family member. Maybe it’s that level of removal.”
Using her care package business model as a base, Xavier reached out to the Chicago community to raise money and enlist the help of local businesses, including services by licensed therapists and other healers to create care packages to support victims of sexual assault.
Through contacts in the Virgin Islands, she decided to start domestic violence awareness projects on St. Thomas and St. Croix as well.
To manage those initiatives, Xavier formed Project 6IX, referring to the belief that “no matter who we are and where we come from, we are connected by six degrees or less.” Working with non-profit community partners, Project 6IX is undertaking three initiatives.
On St. Croix, Project 6IX partners with the Anatha Foundation. Headed by Grace King, the goal of Anatha is to “bridge the gap for adolescents with mentorship programs,” through clubs focusing on a variety of interests, such as dance and cooking. One of the clubs focuses on finance, seeking to guide adolescents on the path towards financial success.
“This is preventative. We want them to be independent,” said King. “When you’re not financially independent, you’re under someone else’s control, and if they are violent, it’s a bad situation.”
Anatha and M2M are in the process of creating a “homegrown” minority-owned beauty brand that will produce and sell a red hibiscus-colored lipstick. According to King, there are 15 girls involved in the project, and they hope to introduce their product in October in honor of Domestic Violence Month.
Funds raised by the sales of the lipstick will be used to create financial literacy and entrepreneurship training for those either facing, or are at risk of domestic abuse and violence.
Project Red Rose in Chicago is using an almost identical model.
On St. Thomas, the plan for the Mahogany Tree Project was originally to raise enough money through the Family Resource Center to send M2M care packages to families who have lost loved ones to domestic violence. While brainstorming, Xavier and Development and Marketing Director Vernon Araujo decided instead on a much larger project: to memorialize those who lost their lives to domestic violence with a permanent art installation in the center’s courtyard. The installation will be created out of storm-damaged mahogany by artist Clay Jones from the sevenminusseven art collective.
A 60-day campaign to fund the project will begin later this month and the actual construction will begin by October.
“I got involved because I thought it was important,” said Araujo. “Why wait until October to bring awareness to domestic violence? With COVID-19, there has been a spike in the courts of domestic violence cases, so we need to talk about it and bring it to the forefront of the conversation.”
According to Araujo, there is a list of 73 people who were lost to domestic violence in the Virgin Islands through 2016. An update is expected to raise that number to 90 or 100.
The installation will serve to memorialize those who have been lost, promote healing for the families involved and let those experiencing domestic violence now know that they are not alone and that they have a community to support them.
“The goal is to really get into people’s cores and make them realize that we are responsible for these names on Family Resource Center’s art installation,” said Xavier. “We’ve all contributed to it because collectively, we’ve allowed this to keep happening. We all still have this responsibility as a collective to say something or reach out to someone that you think is being abused.”
For more information, visit www.m2mgifts.com.