Posted by Jim Applegate
Editors Note: Jim Applegate spoke about the Social Justice Sewing Academy at our July 8 Club Meeting. 
 
The Rotary Peace Builders Committee secured grants from the Healing Racism in Illinois Program (https://fieldfoundation.org/healingillinois) and the Rotary Literacy Grant program to create a partnership with the Social Justice Sewing Academy (SJSA) (www.sjsacademy.org) and The Outlet (www.theoutletillinois.org) supporting an SJSA academy for the African American young men and boys (as well as some of their parents, grandparents, and young girls) served by The Outlet. The Outlet largely serves youth in families without present fathers.
 
 
For three nights about 25 participants (a) talked about what it means to be an African American male in Springfield and America (b) worked with SJSA staff and experienced quilters to translate the ideas and emotions sparked by those discussions into visual images imprinted onto quilt squares and (c) created artist statements expressing what their squares meant to them (images above and on left provided by The Outlet). Each of the young men were given a copy of the book “Stitching Stolen Lives” authored by one of our SJSA partners (image below provided by The Outlet) and a picture of themselves with their square.
 
 
These squares will be transformed into a beautiful full-sized quilt by SJSA. The Peace Builders Committee will organize community events where the quilt will be displayed, and the young men will be engaged to talk about their work with leaders and citizens across Springfield. The goal of these events is to spark community conversations about what Springfield needs to do to address the issues raised by these young men and their quilt and build greater peace in our community.
 
The Springfield Outlet/Rotary quilt also be on display at national quilting expositions and museums along with the estimated 45 other community quilts created to date by SJSA to give voice to those who are often not heard by their communities and country.
 
The insights and high level of engagement of participants was amazing to hear and see. One retired veteran teacher/quilter called it “one of the most meaningful things I have ever done.” Everyone involved from SJSA organizers to Outlet staff, to Rotary and quilter volunteers came away in awe of the young men’s work as well as energized and motivated to make sure their message was heard far and wide to spark change.