Southern Rural Black Women’s Initiative for Social and Economic Justice

SRBWISRBWI organizes, trains and nurtures women in 77 impoverished rural counties in Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia to incubate businesses, build networks of leaders and advocate for public policies that help families and communities. Its Young Women's Leadership Program brings young women and their mentors to a five-day leadership training and career development institute each summer on the campus of Tougaloo College, a historically Black college near Jackson, Mississippi. SRBWI's Commissions on Human Rights, led by black women mayors in six towns in Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia, receive training in public policy advocacy to change the debilitating conditions in their communities that trap them and their children in poverty. SRBWI's approach to lifting women out of poverty is Asset and Economic Development building skills, cooperative networks, and small local and regional businesses rather than relying on traditional economic development practices, such as attracting industry, that have left many rural women behind.

About SRBWI

The Southern Rural Black Women's Initiative for Economic and Social Justice (SRBWI), organizes grassroots women in the impoverished, former plantation areas of Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia to incubate businesses, build networks of leaders and advocate for public policies that help families and communities.

Founded in 2001, administered by CDF-SRO and financed by private foundations and individual donations,SRBWI has convened more than 1,000 women in 77 persistently poor counties to collaborate in creating and pursuing solutions to poverty and injustice, increasing control over their own lives and participating in economic development activities.

SRBWI uses the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a framework to tie participants and their communities to the international human rights movement in a way that is unprecedented in the United States. This focus also exposes the barriers of race, class and power that trap Southern rural Black women and their children in poverty. Working with women in local communities, SRBWI has adopted the following approaches to changing lives and prospects:

Human Capacity Building

SRBWI’s regional and state organizations regularly convene women, ranging in age from 13 to their 80’s, to receive skills building and leadership training, connect to resources and develop intergenerational ties. Among the gatherings are advocacy and public policy training sessions at the annual Samuel DeWitt Proctor Institute for Child Advocacy Ministry held at CDF Haley Farm in Clinton, Tennessee, and use of the “More is Caught than Taught” training, developed by Alabama state partner FOCAL, to combat internalized oppression and enable women to “vision” and speak for themselves.

Advocacy and Public Policy through Mayor’s Commissions on Human Rights

Six Mayor’s Commissions across Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi are made up of women from local communities and are led by black women elected officials. Their role is to educate women to understand that homelessness, inadequate education, lack of gainful employment and health care are human rights violations. The commissions meet regularly and receive training in public policy advocacy to change these conditions.

Lifting Women out of Poverty: Asset Development for Southern Rural Black Women

Women’s groups in local communities are creating income-producing, community-asset development projects, ranging from a regional sewing cooperative to a transportation company. SRBWI is also working to extend allied healthcare training in Mississippi to rural black women and to assist women in producing and marketing specialty crops and foods across the region.

Young Women’s Leadership Development

SRBWI sponsors a leadership institute for 85 young black women and their mentors each year. They are then integrated into the organization’s work in their home counties.

Learn more about the Southern Rural Black Women's Initiative.

Young Women's Leadership Program

The Young Women's Leadership Program is a component of SRBWI which seeks to empower women of all ages in impoverished counties in Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi to improve their own and their communities' economic and social well being.

Approximately 85 young women and their mentors attend the five-day Unita Blackwell Young Women's Leadership Institute on the campus of Tougaloo College — a historically Black College near Jackson, Mississippi. The Institute — named for the first African American female mayor in Mississippi — takes place each year in June. Participants are young women in grades 8-12 who are from the 77 distressed counties targeted by SRBWI.

The young women who attend are able to experience college life by staying in dorms and eating in campus dining halls. They also:

  • take part in challenging activities designed to nurture leadership abilities;
  • are introduced to SRBWI's human rights agenda;
  • attend interactive workshops in marketable skills;
  • learn about the rich contributions of Southern rural Black women to human rights; and
  • discuss problems of African American teenaged girls.

Highlights of past Institutes include workshops and forums on:

  • fashion design;
  • jewelry making;
  • photography;
  • health and wellness; and
  • how hip hop and media images impact young women's self-image.

In addition, attendees are able to participate in New Visions, a digital filmmaking mentor/apprentice program, which allows mentors and apprentices to engage in highly focused, hands-on training in video production. And at night attendees are able to participate in the cultural experience of the Institute.

SRBWI employs youth organizers in the three states to continue working with the youth who attended the Institute or applied but weren’t chosen because of lack of space. Each state provides ongoing activities that involve Institute participants in regional and state advisory committees, the Mayor’s Commissions on Human Rights and community service projects. They also visit college campuses and some participate in trainings at CDF Haley Farm in Tennessee.

Mayor's Commission on Human Rights

SRBWI has recognized that advocacy focused on human rights is a powerful approach in achieving economic and social justice for southern rural black women. Exposing the glaring gap between the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations in 1948, and daily lives of black women and children in the rural south ties these women to the international human rights movement in a way that is inspiring and unprecedented.

The Mayor’s Commissions on Human Rights serve as the vehicle for organizing and involving SRBWI women of all ages in taking responsibility for the well-being of their communities in Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi. The Commissions are led by black women elected officials and are made up of local women. They meet regularly and receive training in public policy advocacy to change the debilitating conditions in their communities — homelessness, inadequate education, la ck of gainful employment and health care — that trap them and their children in poverty.

Strategic objectives are:

  • Ensure access to and full participation in power structures and decision-making.
  • Increase women’s capacity to participate in decision-making and leadership.

The six existing Commissions are located in:

  • Alabama (Hayneville)
  • Georgia (Douglas and Wilcox Counties)
  • Mississippi (Anguilla, Leland and Metcalfe)

Additional Commissions are being formed in Shorter, Alabama and Camillia, Georgia.

In 2006, the Commissions gathered information on the status of women in their communities using a survey developed by SRBWI. The results were published in 2007 in a report: The Rain Don’t Fall to the Ground Down Here: The Status of Human Rights for Southern Rural Black Women. This report illuminates the women’s lives and points of view, is available at www.srbwi.org.

The mayors presented their findings in a workshop at a gathering of thousands of women from around the world, the U.S. Social Forum, in Atlanta, Georgia in June, 2007. They issued a Call to Action to address denials of basic human rights, and networked with others involved in national and international women’s human rights work.

The data collected in the survey serves as a baseline for SRBWI’s annual tracking and reporting on whether quality of life conditions have improved, deteriorated, or remained stagnant. Based on the survey, the Mayor’s Commissions has developed and is implementing a regional SRBWI action plan with local and state advocacy agendas.

Asset Development for Southern Rural Black Women

Lifting Women Out of Poverty

Women living in the impoverished rural areas of Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi are not faring well in the current labor market and are poorly positioned to adapt to future economic challenges. Lack of economic opportunity, quality education and training, limited child care, and persistent racial inequality remain huge obstacles. In a survey of rural black women, 80 percent identified unemployment as a problem.

SRBWI’s approach to lifting women out of poverty focuses on building skills, cooperative networks, and local and regional businesses in sectors with demonstrated growth potential rather than relying on traditional economic development practices, such as attracting industry, that have left many rural women behind. We contend that in isolated rural regions, tight local networks of enterprises in the same or complementary sectors, working in collaboration can become economic drivers in our region and will be better positioned to foster innovation and adapt to economic and market changes than isolated corporations with no investment in the long term.

SRBWI supports sector based enterprise development through worker and cooperative ownership as a vehicle for community control of resources, achieving livable wages and providing meaningful work, all of which ultimately contribute to the long term stability of communities and enterprises.

SRBWI has identified several industry clusters in our region including niche manufacturing, value added agriculture and food production, cultural heritage tourism, allied health care, and the growing alternative energy sector. These sectors have significant growth potential and could create quality jobs that do not require professional degrees on the outset, but offer opportunity for growth. Our support of such industries in our targeted counties currently include:

Southern Journeys, A Worker Owned Sewing Company

Women, many of them long-time garment workers who lost their jobs to industry globalization, are setting up a regional sewing company across Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi that they will own and operate. They are now busy designing a collection of Authentic and Hand-Crafted Home Décor, Personal Accessories and Gifts unique to the South through their cultural and social inspirations.

A Women’s Value Added Agricultural Network

This network coordinates training and networking activities to assist women in producing and marketing specialty crops and foods. The network is also focused on improving community access to fresh, quality, affordable produce. Licensed commercial kitchens equipped for catering and commercial food preparation are being developed in the three SRBWI states.
Workforce Development Initiative in Allied Health Care SRBWI is working with Mississippi community colleges to extend training programs in the allied healthcare professions. The project seeks to develop marketable skills and career pathway s for unemployed or underemployed rural black women in a sector that offers livable wages and reliable employment.

Local Projects

SRBWI staff and consultants are working with local women’s groups to develop income producing, community asset development projects fr om the Women on the Move transportation company in Mississippi to the Southern Alternatives worker-owned pecan processing cooperative in Georgia.

A Cultural Heritage Corridor

SRBWI is developing six cultural heritage sites as part of its Corridor (two in each state). One Hall of Fame site has been identified in each state and is being planned to house inductee exhibits and a digital film archive, including films produced by the young women in SRBWI “New Visions” digital filmmaking training program. State Halls of Fame will employ local women and sell their products. A traveling exhibit of 2005 Inductees en titled “Just Stand Any How!” will begin touring this spring.

Financial and Technical Assistance and Training

This training is made available through SRBWI staff, consultants, community based partners and SRBWI’s Seed Grant Fund.

Contact Us

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Will include Natalie, Gloria and Sarah