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After I graduated from UC Berkeley, I was uncertain about what I wanted to do with my life. I was “in the real world.” I knew I would have to get a job and pay bills, etc. However, I knew that working a 9-to-5 job would do nothing to make the world a better place. After evaluating my environment, I was saddened by serial shootings, growing gentrification, and increased income inequality. And since I don’t meet the age requirement or experience to run for President of the United States, I pondered on what else I could do to push our country toward a brighter future. I thought about the future for when I have kids of my own; what I could do at this age to tell them that their mother was responsible for helping people. The light bulb in my head turned on. I wanted to help make children aware of social justice issues so they can innovate solutions that work toward solving the problems of today’s society.
In May 2016 I established the Social Justice Sewing Academy (SJSA), which seeks to build the next generation of social activists. Students engage in discourse about social justice issues, read culturally relevant curriculum, and most importantly express their opinions on specific social justice issues through sewing a quilt. Each quilt in this story was sewn by a high school student that had this particular issue on his or her heart.
Sexism. Murder. Gentrification. Poverty. These are the four topics that the students sewed about. Each of these topics individually is challenging to overcome; however, some students face multiple issues such as these on an everyday basis in their communities.
SJSA ran two, month-long pilot sessions this summer: one in Berkeley, CA and the other in Chicago, IL. There were about 300 students involved this summer that contributed to making social justice art quilts, and engaged in conversation about making the world into a better place. These children ranged in age from four years of age up until 17 years of age – from kinders to high school juniors.
“Honor the past. Inspire the future. Reimagine your dreams.” This is the mantra of SJSA. We encourage all of our students to dream big, but also work toward accomplishing their dreams. SJSA seeks to teach students in a way that is engaging yet fun. We give our students room to form their own opinions and express them on paper – and in a quilt! Students are their own teachers; instructors only guide the way.
In many instances, students may not be able to discuss social justice issues at home or even in school. Students, in a sense, have all of these emotions bottled within them. SJSA provides an outlet for students to not only express their opinions, but to create meaningful change. After students create their quilts, the journey for solving their depicted issues does not end there. The quilt is only the students’ initial inspiration. SJSA helps children develop the skill-set to become a champion of these issues.
One of our students, Juan, admitted to having some trouble with gang violence and the law; he informed us that, “I didn’t know what I would have done this summer if I hadn’t done SJSA…SJSA probably saved me from getting into a lot of trouble.” Although not every student is inflicted with the same problems or will have the exact sentiments of SJSA, we are hoping to continue reaching as many youth as we can to get similar positive stories as Juan’s – stories that are often kept out of the media due to low popularity.
Although the summer pilot programs have ended for SJSA, we have seen a tremendous amount of success. Currently, the SJSA team is working on creating a curriculum that can be made available to schools, nonprofit organizations, and other interested companies to engage children – for free. After being compiled, our Creative Director will reach out to interested parties about starting an independent version of SJSA. Projects will also be made for individuals to access.
Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. popularly said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” SJSA instills this same message into its students that the injustices in the world are wrong and must be changed. SJSA isn’t just a program. It’s not one place. It’s not an organization. It’s a revolution. We are making ways to empower our youth for everyone’s betterment in the future.
For more information on SJSA, please visit our website: sjsacademy.com and/or follow us on Instagram at sjsacademy