How sewing and activism work hand-in-hand

The first step in understanding the world and where I fit in was exploring my passion for sewing, art and social justice.  As a child, I always loved creating crafts and sewing. Being blessed with parents who could afford sewing and art lessons, I was able to develop skills that would help me express my thoughts and dreams in a compelling way through quilting. Little did I know, my early desire for fun, colorful sewing and simple design would create an opportunity for me to gain self-esteem, joy and earn money.
When I was 16-years-old, I was saddened to learn Trayvon Martin was murdered.  Trayvon and I were born only days apart and our lives, both valuable and precious to our families, had very different outcomes. My first portrait art quilt, “Rest In Power: Trayvon Martin,” was designed as a memorial for the young Black teen who was murdered due to fear of the unknown, felt by another man, which was largely due to Trayvon’s race.
These events inspired me to create the Social Justice Sewing Academy (SJSA). SJSA is a critical education program that fosters participatory art as a vehicle for personal transformation, community cohesion, and social change. It is a place where people come together to create art that provides healing, self-expression and a call to action.
SJSA has workshops to create quilt blocks that are designed by young people who may have never worked with fabric before. These quilt blocks are constructed with colorful fabric by a new fabric artist who speaks his or her heart through the message and meaning placed on the block. The blocks are designed by young folks who may not have had the opportunity to take expensive sewing or art classes, and may have never had their voices heard. After the workshop is completed, the blocks are distributed across the nation to experienced volunteers who embroider and embellish the blocks with their own special touch!
The final product is a quilt block, perhaps designed by a 13-year-old girl, about her desire to motivate her community to combat gang violence. That same block might be embroidered by a 70-year-old woman who lives in Vermont and has never felt the pain of losing a family member or friend due to gang violence, but wants to help start a movement.
By bridging the two fabric artists together through sewing, a common ground of understanding and empathy is found; and the collaboration creates one piece of an amazing art quilt!  The art quilts that I sew together bind Americans from all walks of life, age, gender, sexuality and socioeconomic backgrounds together and create an art quilt that will speak to joy and pain felt individually and as a whole in a collective, non-threatening and non-judgmental dialogue.  I believe that by having productive dialogue, people can drive out hate and replace it with love.
The challenge I face with SJSA is finding the free time away from work to host workshops.  My goal is to write grants and find additional sources of funding so I can develop a curriculum that will be shared with teachers across the country to bring SJSA workshops into public schools or after school programs. SJSA can be shared with students who might not otherwise have a place to kindle their passion for social justice issues that are relevant in their lives.