A Common Thread, Generational Healing Through Quilt Making

Written by Kalima Young. Reposted from The Art + Justice Project.

“My experience today has been one of being with strangers who aren’t strangers.  There is a common thread that has us all in the room.”

In late November, FORCE: Upsetting Rape Culture (FORCE) invited community members, organizers and artists to their 1400 N. Greenmount Avenue warehouse to create a quilt square in solidarity with Marissa Alexander. Marissa was being threatened with 60 years in prison in Florida for firing a warning shot to protect herself from her abusive husband and the quilt square, joined by a banner, was being created to be displayed in Florida at her pending trial.

FORCE is organized by artist-duo Hannah Brancato and Rebecca Nagle. The project is a creative activist collaboration to upset the culture of rape and promote a culture of consent by creating art actions to generate media attention and get millions of people talking.  As members of the Artists Withincoalition, FORCE collaborates with local artists and community groups to host a series of healing art events and quilt making workshops in their Station North studio to engage survivors and local residents.

On this sunny, blustery afternoon, participants of all races, ages and genders spent their day painting in collaboration, sewing, and quietly crafting their own stories of survivorship.  One workshop participant, a self-described African American “elder” named Olu, brought her six year old grandson, Eric to the studio to create his own quilt square.

“I Vow To Be A Safe Man

This straight forward and powerful statement was crafted by Eric.  As a caring grandmother, Olu sees this statement as the beginning steps on the path to addressing and healing generations of hurt.

He [Eric] is the offspring of multigenerational survivors. His being here, his having thought about and wrote those words, means everything. I teach that no matter what the thought is, if you don’t say it, you don’t have to own it. Once you say it, the vibration of your body has produced the words and you are responsible for it. He said and wrote – “I vow to be a safe man”. That seed planted will be a tree that grows.”

Olu became interested in the November workshop after participating in a FORCE “Take Back the Night” event earlier in 2014 where she shared her own story of survivorship. When given the opportunity to reconnect with the project, she caught a taxi across town. She was moved to bring her grandson because, as she said on that late November afternoon, “if patterns are going to change we are the ones to do it”.

Olu sees it is paramount to have a physical space to acknowledge and support survivors of sexual assault.

[At the workshop] we all know something about each other. We don’t have to speak it, we just know. I watched folks painting. I watched them gripping of the brush, I watched their struggle. I knew more than maybe I wanted to know about them but that is why we are doing this. Does that quilt not say, “You are not alone”? There are people who have not said hello to me and I have not said hello to them, but we have a collective pain that we are supporting each other through in this space. There is something to be said about that. What is valuable is knowing that this kind of thing helps, little by little by little. Statistics may not fall off because we do this, but every time we do, someone is made more aware of it.”

By opening its doors in Station North to the community for quilt making and healing workshops, FORCE: Upsetting Rape Culture, is helping entire families confront generations of silence around sexual assault.

As Olu describes,

[Eric] is the offspring of multi-generational survivors. What we didn’t know, what we didn’t teach, whatever we missed – I’m not carrying that pattern forward. He is not too young to know that there are people who can cause pain beyond shooting or stabbing people. He is not too young to know that, just as he has the right to have his body safe, he is never to violate someone else’s. He’s not too young to know that.   We can’t talk about the protection of little girls without talking about the re-education and protection of little boys.