Natural sunlight from the arched windows pours through the room, illuminating powerful messages sketched in pencil, scrawled in Sharpie and painted in acrylics onto pieces of muslin cloth.
“I remember bandaging myself at a young age.”
“My body is my home, my temple — and I will not let you destroy my inner peace.”
These words were written by young women, ages 16 to 24, participating in the four-week summer advocacy pilot program at the Women’s Building, where they are receiving mentorship and training on how to advocate against gender-based sexual harassment. As part of the training, 11 young women, who applied and interviewed last month, will create advocacy projects to implement this fall or next spring.
On the third day of the program, guest speakers Claudette Ramirez and Kathy Farrell, co-founders of the Survivors Story Quilt, introduced a project concept to the group: Participants in their project each had a “story cloth” as a canvas to express their feelings of pain, trauma or empowerment in a narrative or artistic representation, which will then be sewn together into quilt panels.
The quilt is just one example of how the young women are learning to advocate for social change. The projects they develop to take back to their communities, schools or workplaces will be presented at the Women’s Building Auditorium on Aug. 2 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
The following day, the young women’s voices will be heard loud and clear to a wider audience at the de Young Museum, where the finished quilt will be exhibited to raise awareness and prompt conversations about the experiences of people who have been assaulted or harassed.
Ramirez and Farrell, who have workshops throughout the Bay Area, began the Survivors Story Quilt project to share stories by survivors of sexual assault and harassment after they watched Christine Blasey Ford testify during the confirmation hearing of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
Ramirez, who is a sexual assault survivor, said that on the anniversary of Kavanugh’s confirmation, the two women also plan to take the quilt to the steps of the Supreme Court on the first Monday of October, when the court will reconvene after the summer recess.
While the subject matter was serious, the mood in the meeting room on the second floor of the Women’s Building was one of gratitude as words of compassion and encouragement were echoed by each of the nine young women in attendance. Many of them have immigrant backgrounds, and are high school and college students or recent graduates.
As they swirled shades of green acrylic paint on a paper plate, Jessica Baca and Teresa Benson discussed their story cloth collaboration.
Inspired by the Garden of Eden, they’re in the process of painting a tree to symbolize “the idea of strength and growth,” said Baca.
Benson added that they are trying to connect nature to women, notably with the themes of “power and healing.”
At a nearby table, Thais Campbell was drafting her life’s journey on her story cloth.
In one section, she plans to draw her family, along with questions and thoughts she had growing up: “Why is my father an alcoholic?” “I’m very anxious to go to college.” “I’m fat, so I don’t think I’m going to date somebody someday.”
Having begun her spiritual journey a year ago, she also plans to include positive affirmations that she says to herself on a daily basis: “Thais, I love you and I forgive you.”
And despite any obstacles that have come her way, she said she is grateful for it all.
“It’s made me who I am right now,” she said, “and I’ve learned a lot from my experiences.”
A Spotify music playlist faintly plays in the background and there’s a comfortable silence in the room, alternated by excited conversations among the women on their quick progress on the quilt project.
At a workstation behind Campbell, Noehly is drawing a girl with a message around her that proclaims what her name isn’t: the unnecessary comments shouted to her by men.
Her story cloth speaks to the objectification of women’s bodies, specifically to moments of being catcalled on the street.
These situations made her skin crawl, she said, making her uncomfortable in her own body at a young age — to the point that she hid herself in baggy clothing to avoid harassment or name-calling.
Eyes focused on her story cloth, Isis D., a spoken-word artist, is trying to figure out a way to use her art in a way that will not only help her heal from her traumas, but other people as well.
When she first heard that they would be working on the quilt, she immediately put pen to paper and wrote a two-page poem in less than 15 minutes.
“This is going to be a really big step to show people that it’s okay not to be okay, and that beauty can come out of this,” she said. “And just because at one moment in time, someone tried to steal your power and made you feel smaller, it doesn’t mean you always have to be in the shadow.”