I met Suzanne Ellis Wernevi on our first day of freshman year in college. We lived on the same hallway, became fast friends, and have shared countless adventures over the last two decades.
Suzanne is also a Facing History alumna, and I credit her with bringing me to Facing History over 15 years ago. As I considered my first job with Facing History, a tiny nonprofit I’d never heard of, it was Suzanne’s instant endorsement that sealed the deal.
Today, Suzanne owns a jewelry business, Luna & Stella, in Providence, Rhode Island, and she has chosen to support Facing History in two ways:
On #GivingTuesday, November 29th, Luna & Stella will donate 20% of all sales to Facing History.
Then, through December 31st, use the code FACINGHISTORY and Luna & Stella will donate 20% of your purchase price to Facing History. This way each customer knows exactly how much will be donated.
What do you remember most from your Facing History class?
I first got to know Facing History as a middle school student in Concord, Massachusetts, where Facing History curriculum about the Holocaust was taught as part of social studies. What I remember most about it was the way the program approached the role of the individual in historic events. Facing History encourages students to imagine themselves as participants, and to think about how individual choices, aggregated, influence the course of history. In this way, history becomes less abstract and more relevant to the daily lives of students.
The practice of trying to understand the motivations of individuals, and how a person’s experiences shape their worldview, is something I have taken with me, in both my work and personal life. It’s the foundation for resolving conflicts small and large.
Why are you choosing Facing History as part of your mission now?
At Luna & Stella, we make fine jewelry that celebrates our closest connections, the relationships between parents and grandparents, sons and daughters, aunts and uncles, sister and brothers, partners and the friends that are our family. I believe those relationships are the greatest treasures we have.
But recently I have been thinking more about the extension of these relationships -- community. Specifically, what is the role of business in civil discourse? What should it be? And, as a small business owner, what should my role be in the larger conversation?
I am the first to admit I don't have all the answers. But I think we owe it to our children and communities to start somewhere (in the words of my friend Liz Vogel).
The place I am starting is with Facing History and Ourselves, because Facing History plays the long game. I cannot think of any work more important right now than giving our children the tools to practice empathy, tolerance, and civic responsibility. This is not the type of work that happens overnight, or whose impacts are immediate, but I feel so strongly that we need to invest in the future for our children.
How do you connect the past, present, and future through your jewelry?
Because our products are designed to be symbolic of loved ones, the past, present and future are all built into the relationships they represent. Parents, grandparents and elders connect us to the past; our children connect us to the future. I remember one customer, a grandmother, whose husband had recently passed away. She saw our moon & stars birthstone charm necklace on the Today Show, and thought of her granddaughter, who had always loved looking at the stars with her grandfather. It was their thing, she said. She purchased the crescent moon charm necklace for her granddaughter with a star charm with her husband’s birthstone, as a way for her granddaughter to carry the memory of her grandfather with her every day.
There is a story in every single product we sell, but it is a story that is only really known and understood by the individual who wears our jewelry.
I love your vintage locket collection and how they carry stories from past generations. Why is that important?
For a brand that designs personal and symbolic jewelry, lockets are a natural extension -- what is more meaningful than carrying a photo of your loved one close to your heart?
We tried for years to develop the perfect locket for Luna & Stella, but with modern tooling and techniques, we could never match the beauty and intricacy of the antique lockets I collect. The cost to replicate tooling for the variety of sizes, shapes, and motifs of this collection would be prohibitive today. Each piece was hand engraved -- each one a work of art.
In the end we gave up on the idea of developing our own, and instead started collecting the antiques more seriously. It has been thrilling to see the response – our customers love these small treasures just as much as I do.
I love finding lockets with the original photos inside. It is a glimpse into another time and place. I wonder about the people in the photos; who were they in relation to the woman who wore the locket? I think it is so special that those memories have been preserved in some way, sometimes more than 100 years later. When the new owner puts in her own photos, the locket gets new life and new meaning for each caretaker.
I find something hopeful about longevity in these pieces. They have survived through wars and conflicts and loves and losses, in almost perfect condition. I take comfort, in a small way, in the resilience of these tiny objects. They are, in themselves, a symbol of the connections between past, present and future.