The Southern Rural Black Women’s Initiative (SRBWI)
The Civil Rights struggle didn't end in the 1960s. It didn't begin there either.
The Southern Rural Black Women's Initiative is dedicated to celebrating the achievements of our ancestors, and we are determined to continue their efforts to push our communities forward.
We've supported the start-up of Southern Journeys. We've established the first Black women’s agricultural cooperative in Mississippi. We have established Human Rights Commissions in communities that are all too often forgotten about by mainstream America. We have an inter-generational leadership development program for young women and a Hall of Fame marking the achievements of Southern Rural Black Women throughout history.
In isolation, each of these initiatives achieves important goals. But collectively, they represent a larger vision: a world where Southern Rural Black Women are recognized for the hard-working innovators, business people, mothers, community leaders and activists that we are.
“If you could improve your life and the quality of life in your community, what would you need?”
This is the question the Southern Rural Black Women’s Initiative (SRBWI), a nonprofit organization committed to Black women's leadership and empowerment, asked women in southern rural communities that inspired the creation of Southern Journeys.
Sewers interested in being part of the Southern Journeys’ first "design team" were asked to submit samples to Patti Carpenter, a design consultant instrumental in the initial product design process. Patti selected Gussie Robinzine, as a design team member. Gussie brought one of her quilted pillow covers. Carpenter looked at the hand stitching and said, “Gussie, this is money. Don’t ever let anybody put you down about handmade.” Gussie describes thinking, “‘Wow I’m ready to go.’
The design team created collections utilizing up-cycled feed sacks and colorful hand dyed fabric produced by Baba Blankets, a collective of women in Ghana -- a connection facilitated by Freada Kapor Klein of Kapor Capital, who also provided a bridge loan needed to purchase a large quantity of fabric. Lara Jealous, a textile designer who has worked with factories and mills in the United States, India, and Europe, fell in love with the Southern Journeys story and mission. Jealous helped to market products to the Global Exchange Store and source recycled and donated fabrics.
Adwoa M. Awotwi, a pro bono attorney, and Sarah Bobrow-Williams, SRBWI Asset and Finance Development Director, worked with the Southern Journeys Managing Board to create our worker-owned structure. “There is a difference between sewing for yourself and doing a line that has been decided on,” said Shirley Kemp, a Southern Journeys worker-owner whose mother made clothing for her and her seven siblings from flour sacks. "We went through a lot of training just to get our mindset from thinking as home sewers to thinking as a company," adds Sonya Parker, a worker-owner who served as a machinist in the Navy.
Southern Journeys’ Member Owners are committed to harvesting the seeds planted by SRBWI. We have gained not only skills and business revenues at this point, but also a deep commitment to building a sustainable company; a company that Southern Journeys worker-owner Dorothea Taylor envisions will provide ”jobs and products for a new generation.”