A lot of things cross my mind when I get concerned. I quietly think to myself about my relationships, my health, loved ones and even money and paying my bills. I never imagined I would find myself concerned about the blueberries. Why is a small delicious little blue sphere a concern of mine now, but never before? Why did it concern someone so much they put up a billboard along a busy highway in town?
I remember when my boss said, “We want you to find out what that ‘blueberry’ billboard is all about.” I thought, “What the heck is he talking about? A blueberry billboard?”
I picked up the phone and started asking questions. It wasn’t until someone on the other end said the name Phil Shaltz that the pieces of the puzzle began to fall into place.
Shaltz, a local philanthropist, is a friend of mine. He described himself to me once as “kooky.” However, there is nothing kooky about his concern for the blueberries. He put up a simple billboard that read, “I’m concerned about the blueberries” along a busy stretch of highway in Genesee County. That’s all it said. There wasn’t a fancy picture to go with it. There wasn’t an author’s name to signify you read a profound quote. It simply read, “I’m concerned about the blueberries.” It was so simplistic that you couldn’t help but raise an eyebrow when you saw it.
While on a trip to Alaska several years back, a tour guide who appeared to not have a care in the world told Shaltz, “I’m concerned about the blueberries.” The guide was talking about the fruit crop and the lack of rain. Shaltz immediately identified this problem as something he had no control over. No one could actually make it rain to take away this concern. No matter how much fun he was having with his tourists, this man’s worry circled above his head like a pesky fly that kept coming back after you thought you finally shooed him away.
A light bulb went off inside Shaltz’s “kooky” mind as he began to think about the struggles of his friends and family back home in Flint. He immediately identified those struggles and called them “blueberries.” The blueberry represents the small struggles we all face day in and day out. He knew he couldn’t make rain clouds magically appear for this man, but he could do something small to help keep those blueberries from clouding his mind.
A movement sprouted from the seedling he planted with the plain-Jane billboard. His anonymous statement of concern was directed at each and every one of us. We’ve become desensitized to the problems of our peers and more times than none we choose to ignore them. I am not a blueberry farmer, so why should I be concerned about this season’s crop? Don’t we all have our own problems to worry about?
When Shaltz came forward, the day I was able to talk to him on the phone about it, he said the premise was to encourage people to do nice things for one another. No, he wasn’t asking you to be Oprah and buy everyone in the neighborhood a new car, but why not shovel the sidewalk for the little old lady who doesn’t have a car. It wouldn’t cost you anything but a moment of your time and a small piece of your heart.
Since that billboard sprouted up over the expressway, the blueberry movement has infiltrated our schools. Thousands of students now compete for scholarship money every year. They write essays detailing how they’ve done something to make the world a better place.
Isn’t that what it’s all about? Whitney Houston so beautifully told us in the ’80s, “the children are our future, teach them well and let them lead the way.” Did we forget that our actions are the best lessons any child can learn? Maybe not talking about our own blueberries is half the battle. We are most relatable when we are vulnerable. Our vulnerability is the secret to success when it comes to helping someone out.
It’s time to dust off your jar of blueberries and spread them like jelly on a piece of buttered toast. Each act of kindness will take a bite out of that piece of toast. It will taste so delicious swallowing your problems with each bite. The more you do for others the less your chance of that piece of toast falling off the table right on to your brand new pair of skinny jeans. Don’t ruin your skinny jeans…do something nice for someone right now.