Living Democracy

Stitching together a bright future in Camden

Samantha Gomez, a Youth Organizer for the Southern Rural Black Women’s Initiative (SRBWI), saw an opportunity when a member of the executive committee, Sarah Bobrow-Williams, reached out in hopes of starting an extension of the Southern Journeys sewing program http://www.southernjourneyscollective.com/srbwi in Camden.

Southern Journeys is a program of member-owners and sewers from rural counties in Alabama’s Black Belt, Georgia, and the Mississippi Delta who produce products and designs that reflect the culture and history of Black women in the rural South.

 Southern Journeys is one of four programs cultivated by SRBWI https://www.srbwi.com,  which was founded in the early 2000s to reduce race, class, and cultural barriers experienced by rural Black women. SRBWI now works in 77 counties with more than 2,500 women.

Gomez said, “They encourage women to use their gifts and talents. Women in those areas who can sew have these collections where they have fabric that they get from Africa, and they make amazing things with them like bags, wallets, purses, all types of things.”

In late April, four 14-year-old Wilcox County teens began sewing lessons instructed by Frannie Ethridge, who is among Southern Journeys working owners.

With the goal of pointing the young women in the direction of learning and positivity, Gomez said she wants to keep creating opportunities and connections. “We want the girls to do as much as they can, experience as much as they can, and expose them to as many positive things as we can,” Gomez said.

With support from BAMA kids, the group meets every Wednesday from 2 to 5 p.m. at the BAMA Kids location in Camden.

So far, the teens have learned how to sew masks and bags, and they are currently working on sewing straight lines. Right now, they are making products for themselves. In just a short amount of time, Gomez said the girls are picking up on techniques quickly.  

Once they master sewing a straight line, the group will move toward making products they will be able to sell. Gomez noted, “We are starting them off early and teaching them basics.  We want them to build upon their skill set and get into something positive that can become lucrative for them.”

Starting an extension program with Southern Journeys, which is currently in retail partnerships in New York, California, Georgia, and South Carolina with sewers in their programs across the South, will hopefully encourage the teens in her group.

Gomez said she hopes that eventually the young women will gain the skills to make products to sell like the more experienced women working with Southern Journeys do.

Ethridge and Gomez want to advance the young women as much as possible, opening up new avenues for them. After only a handful of lessons, the teens are eager to learn and master sewing. They are setting goals for themselves and have already discussed making quilts.

As the COVID-19 worries subside, Gomez said she expects this club to be around for a long time and hopefully attract more members as they collect needed equipment. They are unable to invite more young women at this time because they need more sewing machines.

Gomez said, “It’s so important to keep our young women engaged as much as possible because we don’t want them to lose their spark. We just don’t want them to miss out on opportunities.”

Gomez said anyone interested in donating a sewing machine to help the program expand can contact her by phone at 334-327-6049 or by email at Gomez.samantha1@gmail.com.

By Lauren Landers
Last Updated: June 18, 2021