Given the rigor of life as an LMU School of Education graduate student, no one would have blamed Lauren Black M.A. ’20, Ed.S./P.P.S. ’21 if she had put other activities on hold. But while advancing toward her educational specialist degree in school psychology, serving as a school psychologist intern in the Los Angeles Unified School District and working as a research assistant for several SOE faculty, Black never wavered in her tireless pursuit of issues around social justice and anti-racism, particularly as they affect youth.
As executive director of the nonprofit Social Justice Sewing Academy (SJSA), Black has been an active participant in the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage’s African American Craft Initiative, an effort to expand the visibility of Black artists and highlight the importance of their work to community health and well-being. Black helped to establish SJSA in 2017 as “a youth education program that bridges artistic expression with activism to advocate for social justice.” SJSA’s programs use craft to promote healing and raise awareness as a pathway to conversation, reflection, and action. Youth take part in intergenerational teams that create quilt blocks addressing issues such as racism, police brutality, gun violence, and mass incarceration. In some cases, the art is sent to families that have lost loved ones to race-, gender-, or LGBTQ-based violence; other works are displayed in museums, galleries, and community spaces.
“Quilting and sewing are typically seen as relaxing hobbies, but there is also great potential for communicating a message and making an impact with the finished work,” Black says. “These hobbies are also expensive, so we have provided materials to under-resourced communities that they wouldn’t otherwise have access to.”
Born and raised in South Los Angeles as the child of an educator, Black became acutely aware of the disparities in educational resources and the role of structural racism in perpetuating these gaps. She was drawn to school psychology by the desire to enhance the presence of social and emotional support for marginalized communities. “LMU has taught me the importance of being mindful of circumstances impacting students’ ability to access education, and showed me how to give a voice to these students and their families—including acting as their advocates when they’re not in the room,” Black says.
Black’s background has also informed her activism at LMU. As the Black Lives Matter movement gained momentum in the summer of 2020, she engaged in extensive dialogue with SOE faculty, students, and administrators that resulted in Dean Michelle D. Young establishing a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Action Committee with a focus on “leading, designing, and coordinating SOE’s systematic diversity, equity and inclusion efforts in collaboration with stakeholders.” At the dean’s request, Black served as a graduate student representative for the inaugural committee. Black also worked with her peers to launch and serve as co-president of LMU’s first Black Graduate Student Association.
Black was also part of a team that started the Instagram group Psychactivists to provide resources for parents and educators to support youth of color, LGBTQ+ youth, and those with multiply marginalized identities. Her social justice work also includes scholarship. She co-presented at the California Association for School Psychologists’ annual conference in 2020 on supporting the unique needs of Black LGBTQ students and Black parents who have children with disabilities, and has manuscripts in development that she is co-authoring with SOE faculty.
Her commitments both outside and within the SOE earned Black a 2021 Graduate Student Award for supporting the LMU pillar of Service and Justice. Earning her degree while keeping up her activism has been a challenge, but she has no intention of slowing down. “Knowing the impact that this work can have keeps me energized,” she says.