On August 9, 2014, an unarmed 18-year-old named Michael Brown was shot and killed by a police officer in the majority Black St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Missouri. A recent high school graduate, Brown was just two days away from continuing his education at a trade school at the time of his death. In the aftermath, prolonged demonstrations on the streets of Ferguson called for policing reform and led to the national recognition of the Black Lives Matter movement, which was amplified even further after the death of George Floyd in 2020.
Quilts can hold a particularly important pace in memorializing those who have passed. Making quilts using clothes, photographs, or favorite colors helps people feel physically connected to their loved ones after a loss. Inspired by the long history of using quilts to comfort those in grief, the Social Justice Sewing Academy’s Quilts of Remembrance Project connects quilters to the families who have lost a loved one to violence and helps to create a textile memorial.
Founded in 2017, the Social Justice Sewing Academy (SJSA) is a youth education program that bridges artistic expression with activism to advocate for social justice. Through in-person and virtual workshops, SJSA educates young people about activism and quilting to empower them to create activist quilt blocks. Building off of SJSA’s original work, the Quilts of Remembrance project provides an avenue for seasoned quilters to contribute to SJSA’s mission—and to memorialize someone who was deeply loved.
As Michael Brown’s mother, Lezley McSpadden, wrote after receiving this Quilt of Remembrance from Laura Hartrich, “This is remarkable…thank you for thinking of my beautiful son. I will cherish this along with my memories of him.” Hartrich’s own personal journey while making this quilt added a layer of meaning, as her own 18-year-old was dropped off for college the day she shipped this quilt to Michael Brown’s family. She also made a quilt for her own son to take on his journey.