The Southern Rural Black Women’s Initiative (SRBWI) 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.
- SRBWI was founded in 2001 by CDF-SRO.
- SRBWI has convened more than 1,000 women representing 77 persistently poor counties.
- SRBWI uses the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights to tie participants’ communities to the international human rights movement.
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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.