Stems For Change: RPO musician uses her love of growing flowers to contribute to racial equity

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Molly McDonald has been a violinist with the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra for seven years. In that time, along with her time at Eastman School of Music, the Kansas City native has made Rochester her home.

“The city was warm and welcoming to me the entire time I was at school, through my career as well,” she said.

For McDonald, the reward of being a musician goes far beyond the rewards of craft and performance. Music provides people with a sense of community, and uplifts the spirit.

“Music is important to everyone you meet,” she said. “Music is everyone’s blood here… It’s something you can talk about, something you can share, and something positive you can share.”

You can now find her doing livestreamed shows on the Musicians of the RPO Facebook page.

“Even if we can’t have an audience, I feel like I’m playing for my neighbors,” she said. “It feels so valuable.”

While she was honing that craft, she was growing another. A love of cut flowers.

However, she isn’t just pursuing this for fun. Just like how her music career cements the career for others, she wants to use her love of flowers to build a better foundation for racial equality.

“In response to George Floyd’s death, I was trying to figure out what my role in social change would be, and realizing that I just needed to be more personally invested,” she said.

Each week on her “Stems for Change” Facebook page, she asks for donations for Black-owned institution or a institution that works for minority communities.

So far, she’s collected a total of over $1,000 for ROC Music (a group that provides classical music education to lower-income students for free), the Black Physicians Network of Greater Rochester, Soul Fire Farm (which trains the next generation of Black Farmers), and Inclusive Woods and Us (a program that brings outdoor experiences to Black and low-income families and kids).

When you donate, you can nominate a friend, and that friend receives special flowers grown by McDonald on her little flower farm.

But this week, she’s doing something different.

She’s asking for both monetary and floral donations for the Frederick Douglass Family Initiatives. While the money will go right to the organization, McDonald will take all of the donated flowers and place them at the feet of the 13 Frederick Douglass statues across Rochester, following the vandalism on the Douglass Statue in Maplewood Park.

“Frederick Douglass Family Initiatives was founded by direct descendants of Douglass and Booker T. Washington and recently made Rochester, NY its home base,” McDonald said in a Facebook post. “Today they focus primarily on racial justice, human trafficking issues, and supporting leaders in these fields.”

McDonald hopes that combined with the financial contribution, the small but kind act of donating flowers from your home garden can go a long way.

“As Rochesterians, we are proud of Frederick Douglass, we support his work and we want to continue it,” she said. “It’s simply meant to be a gesture of kindness in the wake of all these disappointing things that happen. We can respond with greater acts of kindness, and that’s what I want people to think when they see the decorated statues.”

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