Gary: Angelina, Halle, and Hugh. A-list celebs with one thing in common — and we are not talking about blockbuster movies.
Lovetta Conto: It’s actually something that’s unrealistic because it’s like, ‘Oh my god! It’s Angelina Jolie and she has a picture of the necklace!’
Gary: Lovetta Conto is the creator of the Akewele Necklace.
Okay. So, tell me a little bit about the necklace.
Lovetta: Okay. So, this is an Akawelle necklace and it’s made from bullets from the Liberian Civil War.
Gary: Bullets that severed a nation.
So, what does the bullet and the leaf stand for?
Lovetta: As you can see, this is the bullet. This is the bottom part of the bullet and this is the top of the bullet and its leaf, and it’s a leaf. The leaf is melted down from the casing of the bullet. It’s art to show good things can come out of bad things. Like no matter what happens, no matter what you go through, there’s always going to be new life and good beginnings.
Gary: Art that is inspired by a war. A far contrast from the red carpet premieres and bright lights of Hollywood.
We met up with Lovetta in Little Liberia, a section in Staten Island, New York.
So, does Little Liberia here in Staten Island remind you a little of home?
Lovetta: Of course. Yeah, it’s so…it’s really amazing because coming here and seeing, like, everything here. It’s like being at home.
Gary: But there are some reminders of home Lovetta wishes she could forget.
The Liberian Civil War began in 1989. After a failed government takeover, more than 200,000 Liberians were killed, and a million others lost their homes and had to live in refugee camps. Lovetta and her family were right in the middle of it.
Lovetta: According to my dad, when we were leaving, is that the rebels already came to the village where we were and my mom wasn’t around. My dad and I were there and we had to leave immediately. So, we had no choice. It was either being there and getting killed or leaving.
Gary: Lovetta’s mom was left behind. Growing up without her mom haunted Lovetta for many years. She was only eight months old back then. Her dad grabbed her and little else when fleeing from the rebels.
Lovetta: He would take me and he would actually ask women to breast feed me. You know, when you were hiding and stuff the women that were hiding with us. So, that’s how I was able to survive. I think without those women I would be dead.
Gary: They ended up in a refugee camp in the country of Ghana when Lovetta turned four. It was a tough place.
Lovetta: I go to this place with so many people — 47,000 people together. My first night, it was so dark. I had to sleep on the plastic, like on a plastic on the ground. I had to sleep on it. I remember the next day I say, ‘Wow this is my new life.’
Gary: The camp was filled with frustrated people, dirty drinking water and little food.
Lovetta: You know, that’s the thing. You make it in survival without eating. I can go a whole day without eating. I know how to do that.
Gary: But like her necklace, Lovetta’s life would turn over a new leaf when a woman named Cori Stern spotted then twelve-year-old Lovetta in the camp, and eventually made her the first fellow in a new organization called the Strong Heart Fellowship. The program helps young people rise up from challenging situations all over the world. The hope is they will grow into future leaders and make an impact. That is how Lovetta was able to leave the refugee camp and go to school. Now her life is far from the horrors of wars. She has met celebrities and interviewed world changers like the Dali Lama.
Lovetta wants to start her own clothing line, but she wants her reach to go beyond clothing.
Lovetta: That is one thing as I grow older that I would really want to fight to stop and hunger. Because I know how it feels like to be hungry.
Gary: If you could say just one thing to teens all over the world that say, ‘I could never follow my dreams,’ what would you say?
Lovetta: It’s just that you have to believe in yourself. It’s just the little things you do, you know, in your community. It doesn’t even have to start with Africa. Just the little trash you pick on street, or the little people you help. That’s changing your community right there.
But to tell you the truth, sometimes I don’t believe that I’m doing this. Sometimes, like, I say, ‘Alice in Wonderland…sometimes I still try to pinch myself like, ‘Get up!’ And I realize it’s reality. When you focus and work hard for things, the more you get them.
If Angelina Jolie is wearing your necklace, of course anything can happen!
Gary: And not only has she got those things, she also recently received something she has wanted all her life — to see her mother. They found each other a couple of years ago. A great ending to a story that is only getting better.
Gary Hamilton, Channel One News.