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This Portland-Made Bracelet Honors a Civil Rights Landmark

Betsy & Iya's Selma Bridge cuff transforms a style statement into a political one. (Ava DuVernay is a fan.)

By Eden Dawn February 26, 2019 Published in the March 2019 issue of Portland Monthly

In a time when the national conversation is all about walls, admired local jewelry company Betsy & Iya wants to talk about bridges. Specifically, the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. For seven years designer Betsy Cross has turned Portland spans, like the Fremont and St. Johns, into a hugely popular cuff series. She and her team cut and pound sheets of silver or brass into geometric designs inspired by each bridge’s architecture and labeled with the year the bridge opened and its latitude and longitude. In December, they added a Selma Bridge cuff ($69–89), transforming this style statement into a political one.

The Pettus Bridge was the setting for 1965’s Bloody Sunday, where around 600 civil rights activists were attacked and beaten by police as they attempted to march from Selma toward Montgomery in support of voting rights. The event drew national attention to the discrimination facing black voters. Nearly three weeks later, when 25,000 people, including Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., completed that same march across the steel arches, it cemented the bridge’s status as a civil rights landmark. A half-century after the march—as voters of color are still being purged from the rolls, and with hate crimes on the rise—the conversation is just as relevant.

All profits from the bracelet’s sales benefit Black Youth Project 100, a national nonprofit that builds community through a queer, black, feminist point of view. (Cross and partner Will Cervarich, who are white, say they reached out to mentors in the local black community and beyond for feedback on whether it was appropriate for them to make the cuff and where to direct proceeds.)

It’s been a hit. In January Ava DuVernay, director of the film Selma, showed herself unboxing Betsy & Iya’s cuff on her Instagram stories. But more important, says Cervarich, in the first weeks after its launch the bracelet raised more than $1,300 for BYP100’s work—and has helped boost the group’s message far and wide.

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