Raji Rankins
Raji Rankins (Courtesy photo)

Throughout much of the Sew N Know program’s 11th annual fashion show last weekend, organizers framed the importance of this D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) staple gathering in the context of D.C.’s ongoing development and fears about the erasure of local culture.

For example, program host Raji Rankins often reminded nearly 100 men, women and children watching the festivities on the grounds of the Southeast Tennis & Learning Center (SETLC) on Mississippi Avenue that, when provided the resources, the adolescent models and performers will help shape D.C.’s cultural economy.

“It’s through the development of fashion that young creatives get their stick-to-itiveness and build their self-esteem,” Rankins, director of Sewing Opportunity Never Ending (SONE), told The Washington Informer on Saturday afternoon, moments before “Fashion for Our Lives,” two hours of fashion, music and historically relevant performing arts, commenced.

For more than a decade, SONE has provided tutoring, training, and skills development for youth in D.C.’s economically disadvantaged communities, all of which the young people have showcased through the Sew N Know fashion show.

“We want our young people to have skills that allow them to be self-sustainable,” Rankins added. “They learn sewing and do problem-solving when they measure angles and create patterns. They’re developing the skills of compassion for others and teamwork when they collaborate with one another.”

As DJ Cowboy opened the show with Donald Glover’s “This is America,” young boys and girls, and teenagers sporting all Black outfits walked out onto a platform, holding signs saying, “We are the future,” “Fashion Strikes Back,” and the “Boys Do Fashion” in large block letters. Parents and community elders watched in awe when two young women portrayed D.C. Muriel Bowser and activist Tamika Mallory in short monologues calling for more civic engagement among youth.

In another segment about immigration, a young man dressed as Wyclef Jean, and a young woman acting as a Salvadoran child expressed solidarity with DACA and TPS beneficiaries currently facing deportation. Other performances included Yusha Assad and Kwame McIntosh, both of whom crafted rhymes about dealing with mental illness and following dreams.

Ward 8 D.C. Council member Trayon White (D) assisted in a raffle giveaway before dropping a few gems in his public remarks.

“What we doing to empower our young people is important,” White, whose ward has the highest concentration of young people in the District, told audience members. “We have to invest in our future. I’m honored to be here to support our young people. In the past, we passed the buck and made excuses, but if we invest in our young people we should be all right.”

This year’s program was a collaborative effort between DPR, the Recreation Wishlist Committee, Far Southeast Collaborative, DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities, and Premier Bank, among others. It builds on collaborative efforts between SONE and the Sew N Know Program which has helped more than 3,000 D.C. youth since 2003, including Celeste Adams, who performed as a fashionista during the “Blacks in Wax” showcase.

“Engaging children n and entertaining people is fun. I like getting on stage and showing people what I can do,” Celeste, a 15-year-old who aspires to attend Howard University, told The Informer.

Celeste participated in the Sew N Know program for one year before taking advantage of other opportunities within SETLC.

“Sew N Know pulled a piece out of me that I didn’t know I had,” she said. “I realized there were things I could do — like speak in front of people I didn’t know.”

Sam P.K. Collins

Sam P.K. Collins has more than a decade of experience as a journalist, columnist and organizer. Sam, a millennial and former editor of WI Bridge, covers education, police brutality, politics, and other...

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