The streets were full in Fort Wayne on July 9th at the Three Rivers Festival. As part of the first Open Streets event, a day to build up the community while offering both recreational and fitness activities, whole blocks downtown were barricaded to let citizens move, play, and partake. One little section, right along where East Berry changes to West Berry, sat Shanel Turner, Kay Allday and Jenna Turpin.
With flowers in their hair above large, trendy sunglasses, their smiles and open arms bloomed beneath a teepee constructed in the street. They were building up the community in a different way.
“I made a post on Facebook in June that introduced the idea of someone (not me initially), creating a love booth at festivals and events,” Turner said. “The feedback I was given from friends and family was astounding!”
What started as an innocent Facebook post about the idea for a “Love Booth” at Fort Wayne’s summer festivals turned into a new feature at the Three Rivers Festival, and soon to be other festivals and events around town.
What came about is called the Love Symposium, and the idea is simple. While other event booths are there to sell or feature something for event-goers, the Love Symposium booth merely exists to spread love, compliments and even hugs to people on the street. Any money made or donated goes toward local nonprofits.
“The efforts that have been put into making the Love Symposium happen stemmed 100% from an intense mental urge to give back to the community and do what ‘little ol’ me’ could,” said Turner.
Overall, a simple Love Booth seems like a harmless and very positive addition to Fort Wayne’s festival season. And it is.
But people might also wonder why something like the Love Symposium is even necessary. Why did Turner and Allday feel the urge to make it happen? Shouldn’t people be spreading love and exchanging compliments amongst themselves on the reg’? Shouldn’t this be the norm, running rampant in the streets? After all, it’s fairly self-explanatory that positive emotions improve our feelings and ways of thinking. When you do something nice for someone, you feel better yourself, and there’s science to back it up.
In her article “Why Positive Encouragement Works Better Than Criticism, According to Science,” Belle Beth Cooper explained that “while emotions like fear, anxiety, stress and anger narrow our focus, inhibit our concentration and decrease our cognitive abilities, positive emotions can do the opposite.” That means positive thoughts and actions actually help us concentrate, think big, and take on bigger challenges.
For Allday, the act was meant to help her just as much as it was meant to help others.
“I figured that if I could do just a little bit to brighten someone’s day, then it would potentially do something to my own personal mindset.”
So if doing good things for other people actually helps us, too, then why don’t we all just do positive things more often?
Well, it’s complicated. People tend to do what’s easiest, and that does not always involve being kind and considerate. In fact, it often includes being negative, skeptical, or at the very least neutral, about new information received. In the rush and stress of our daily lives, it’s easy to forget to tell people that we love them, give them hugs, or even remember to smile.
The Love Symposium exists in part to remind us to slow down and appreciate each other. But, according to its mission statement, the movement also goes deeper than that.
“We are breaking down cultural divides and stereotypes by engaging the community with positive outreach on a face-to-face level. Simultaneously, we are raising awareness and funds focused on nonprofits and charities that are geared towards social change and assisting our community in reaching these same goals. Our aim is unwrapping the idea that we are more alike than we are unalike, and only together can we create the change that we dream of for our children.”
Cultural and political divides are tense right now in America. The newest taboo word among friends and family seems to be government. Whether it’s national or local, when the subject is brought up almost immediately someone says, “Let’s talk about something else, please.” The age of being able to have a calm, collected discussion with someone who has an opposite viewpoint is over (at least for now), and social media makes divisions even more complicated. It’s easier than ever to share and encourage your opinions online without any real repercussions. And once you’ve stated an opinion, you’re encouraged to back it up instead of challenging or examining it.
“Our aim is unwrapping the idea that we are more alike than we are unalike, and only together can we create the change that we dream of for our children.”
It’s easy to look at the state of our nation and our world, and lose hope that things are never going to change.
But practices like the Love Symposium’s might be a way to at least knock people off-kilter enough to reconsider their habits and decisions and inspire new ways of thinking. It has to start small, and a small city like Fort Wayne might be just the place for something like this to flourish.
“I have and will always have faith in the unity of the human family, but I also know that people are scared, and tired of the same old song and dance. That is why the Symposium is necessary,” Turner said. “If you could have seen all of the smiles, and heard all of the laughter… It was healing.”
Receiving compliments and positivity, even if it’s just from the smile or laugh of a stranger, can ward off negative thoughts, keeping your mind and beliefs in check and away from turning toxic.
Positive thinking also helps us be less afraid of “the other,” and encourages us to think about what we can do to make a difference in the world, instead.
At the Love Symposium’s little spot on Berry Street during the Three Rivers Festival, you could buy art prints from Allday, a local tattoo artist working out of Studio 13; make a flower crown; take Polaroids; and generally bask in the happiness (and sunshine) of the day and group.
Along with sharing feelings and compliments, visitors at the booth also had the opportunity to donate money to a local cause picked by the Love Symposium on the spot.
Out of the 40 suggestions, St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital was the charity chosen to receive more than $150 that the Love Symposium raised that day.
“The experience was so very humbling,” Turner said. “For people to accept an unorganized movement put on by strangers wearing flowers, giving hugs, dancing around, taking pictures, and supporting local and regional social causes, was breathtaking. We found ourselves surprised many times at the generosity of the Fort Wayne community.”
Turner and the Love Symposium plan to participate in more local festivals and events this summer to show love and raise money for local charities. They have been asked to be part of two events this weekend: the Let’s Comedy Festival and the Harambee (Swahili for “Let’s all come together”) Festival.
“I haven’t felt peace in my chest like this in a very long time,” Turner said. “People are hurting, people are angry, and whatever we, at the Love Symposium, can do to make a positive ripple, in the current times, we will try. (At the Three Rivers Festival), we got a glimpse of what this movement has the power to become and accomplish.”
You can follow The Love Symposium while they try to improve the world little by little, at @TheLove_Symposium on Instagram.
Photography by Benjamin Dehr
Charities and nonprofits the Love Symposium has seen support for so far:
Erin’s House: Providing support for children, teens and their families who have suffered the death of a loved one.
Cinema Center: A not-for-profit film society serving northeast Indiana.
Charis House: An emergency shelter for women and women with children, run through Rescue Mission Ministries.
Project HEAL Fort Wayne: Raising money for those suffering with eating disorders that are unable to afford treatment.
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