Armed with Faith, Hope and Love
Band Together to Inspire, Encourage, Embrace, Celebrate and have FUN!
He was that handsome 4-year-old that had a smile capable of making a grown man cry. I know, because on numerous occasions when dropping him off, I did cry. As a proud uncle, he was the son that I had always dreamed of having and I spent every waking moment that my sister would allow me to take him to my home 800 miles away from the bed that he loved oh so much. He liked being with his uncle, but he loved being with the characters at Disney even more, so I used the season passes as bait to get him to come visit. Tuesday nights were $.25 cent wing night at the popular Frogger's restaurant, and it was always packed with lots of kids because they offered children entertainment. As outgoing of a boy as he was, he did not do well when initially meeting other kids, but once he got past the bashful barrier, “my best friend” became everyone’s title.
Though watching the process unfold of him morphing from an introvert into this handsome social butterfly was intriguing, I wanted to make breaking the ice more natural and as stress-free for him as I could, so I discussed it with my wife at the time (do not judge me). She was one of the craftiest people you will ever meet and had an imagination that resonated with kids. I had the bright idea of creating bracelets in multiple colors that could display images of the many things that kids love and when in public if a kid sees another kid with the bracelet, it would be an automatic conversation piece. GENIUS! Easy way to break the ice and get to “my best friend” status in seconds. So, I employed my wife at the time (Reminder: you will be judged in the way you judge), to come up with a cool “kidsy” design for the bracelet. Using her crochet skills, she designed the most awesome hemp bracelet housing 3 beads that looked like Scrabble pieces. We went on the computer and printed off these tiny little images of baseballs, baby dolls, bicycles, footballs, and even Disney characters, cut them to size and pasted on the face of the wooden bead. It turned out BEAUTIFUL, but I did nothing with the idea or product for several years.
One day while in the kitchen cooking when the phone rang and it was my mother. When I answered I could here the distress in her voice and immediate panic set in. She asked me to sit down, and I did bracing myself for what she was about to say. It was that call that no child ever wants to receive and here I was facing it. “Son, I just got home from the doctor, and they found that I have breast cancer.” Silence! Then tears! Then anger! Then back to silence! I immediately booked a flight to go home to be with my mama all the while not knowing the severity or what stage she was in. When I arrived home, she went into the hospital and had a double mastectomy to remove the cancer. I stayed and became her personal bed-side assistant through the entire recovery process until we got the report that she was cancer free. With the chemo treatments and multiple surgeries after, it was a long gruesome journey, but she fought relentlessly, defeating cancer.
Over time, I went through a divorce and moved back home to Alabama to live with mom for a few months. I left Florida on a plane with one suitcase and everything else I left behind. A few weeks after settling in back home, I called my ex-wife and asked if she knew where that box of bracelets was that she had made. She dug through the garage and found them stashed away but with no hesitation mailed them to me. The idea occurred to create a special bracelet for mom to celebrate her victory over cancer, so I contacted a company that creates novelty products out of hemp to see if they could reproduce what I had, but it had to be hand woven. After several prototypes and failed attempts, we finally produced a bracelet that I was happy with. I placed an order for an all-pink bracelet in a variation of 1,2 and 3 blank beads. With a brand-new computer and printer, I set out to design the perfect bracelet that represented mom’s journey. FAITH, HOPE, LOVE with the breast cancer awareness ribbon became the design and boy was it beautiful. So beautiful that everywhere she wore it people commented and wanted to know where to get them. With the overwhelming response to that one bracelet, I placed a bulk order of 3000 bracelets. A local print shop was able to print and dome the images, leaving me to simply apply the adhesive-backs to the wooden bead.
Without much realization, I was in the bracelet business. I named it UNI Band, which stemmed from its original purpose to help my nephew band together with other kids. Our slogan was “you and I band together to inspire, encourage, embrace, celebrate and have fun!” Before we even set up shop, we donated hundreds of bracelets as a fundraiser for an 11-year-old little girl that had cancer. From that event, people began requesting customized bracelets for any and everything you can imagine. This led to the opening of our first mall kiosk location. By now we had created 30+ individual designs and signed a licensing deal with The University of Alabama to design and sell custom “Roll Tide” bracelets outside the stadium at all their home games. Business was booming and the excitement could not be contained, until one day at the mall kiosk a lady came up to me and shook my entire world. She was pushing a stroller and inside was a baby boy about 3 years old with tubes running from the top of his head and out of his nose. His eyes were opened wide but when you spoke to him it was as if he did not even see you. I hesitantly asked if she cared to share with me his condition. Without hesitation, she told me that he was born with a massive tumor on his brain and that at birth the doctors only gave him 9 months to live. She explained that she was his grandmother and that she takes him out once a week to give his mother a chance to decompress from her full-time caretaker duties. Little did I know that this experience was about to completely change the narrative of The UNI Band Bracelets.
As I leaned down to talk to the baby boy, I told the grandmother to please browse our bracelet collection and whatever she wanted was hers for the taking. She resisted, but I insisted. We had a section with bracelets that had Bible verses and an image in the middle. She was immediately drawn to “The Mother’s Bracelet” which had a Bible reference, an image of a mother holding a baby, and the words “Fear Not, I Am With You”. With tears in her eyes, she asked if she could buy 2 of them, one for her and one for her daughter, the baby’s mother. I had never noticed in the design, but she brought it my attention that there was a hidden image within the image that looked like the silhouette of an Angel where the baby’s ears were. Without fail, I saw it and chills went down my spine. OMG! This little hemp bracelet was serving a far greater purpose than I ever imagined. I bagged the 2 bracelets; gave her a hug and she went about her way. Three days later I was working the kiosk and I saw the same stroller coming from afar, but this time it was a different person pushing it. As she approached the kiosk, I noticed the same little baby boy, but something was majorly different. He had a smile on his face and when he looked at me, I noticed that we made eye contact. It was as if he could see me and recognized who I was. The lady, his mother, extended her hand to say thank you. She went on to explain that ever since birth, she has slept next to her baby’s crib with one hand on his body, hoping and praying that she does not wake up to him dead. When her mother brought the bracelet to her, she said she put it on and felt a peace that she had never experienced before, and for the first time in 3 years, she slept sound without a worry or fear. “I have not and will not remove this bracelet from my wrist” is what she told me. It was at that moment that I realized that my timid little nephew was destined to bring FAITH, HOPE and LOVE to many through a little hemp bracelet!