Stitch Their Name Honors 116 Black Americans Killed, Many By Police

Lauren Forsythe feels connected to the little cross-stitch memorial she created for Paul Childs, a 15 year old boy with an intellectual disability, who was shot and killed by a Denver police officer in 2003.

She thinks of Childs often, especially when working with disabled children as part of her job as a psychologist at an elementary school in Denver.

“I felt lucky to be able to create something that brought it back, just for a little while, in people’s minds,” she said. “He had a mental health break and his family lost him. The more I read about him, the more I felt invested, since I work with children like that.

The image of Childs, who in the portrait wears blue jeans and a striped shirt while standing next to a bicycle, is part of the Stitch Their Names Memorial, two large quilts made up of 116 cross-stitch portraits of Blacks killed, in many cases, by the police.

Child psychologist Lauren Forsythe created this cross-stitch portrait of Paul Childs, a 15-year-old boy with an intellectual disability who was shot dead by a Denver police officer in 2003, for the Stitch Their Names Memorial Project. (Paste their names)

The traveling exhibit features people whose high-profile stories, such as Trayvon Martin and Michael brown, as well as those whose stories are much less known, in the hope that viewers can empathize and perhaps see themselves reflected in the stories of those honored.

In addition to Paul childs, a portrait of Elijah McClain, an unarmed man who died in 2019 after meeting with Aurora police, was also created, although after his mother’s complaints he was temporarily covered with plans to remove it . Four of the 75 artists who created the portraits for the memorial live in Colorado.

“Our goal was to connect a face and a story with a name to evoke a certain empathy and honor aspects of their life that did not just include the moment of their death,” said Holli Johannes, the organizer of the project, who used social media to recruit pickers from 30 states and profiles assigned to each participating artist.

Emily Vigneaux sews an embroidered piece of art for her nephew on December 21, 2021 in Boulder. Vigneaux is one of many national artists who have contributed to the Stitch Their Names Memorial Project, which created hand-made quilts in memory of black victims of violence in the United States. Stitch Their Names, founded in July 2020, was started by Holli Johannes, a high school math teacher. Eugene, Oregon. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun)

Emily Vigneaux, a preschool teacher in Boulder, said there weren’t many photos online of Malissa Williams and Timothy Russell, two people she commemorated for the project, so she created portraits that she imagined their loved ones would have appreciated.

“It was really important to me that they were colorful and that they looked really happy and relaxed,” she said. “From the few photographs I found, I wanted it to feel true to who they were or what they actually looked like.”

Williams, who was homeless at the time, was with his friend Russell on November 29, 2012, when an officer in plain clothes began to follow Russell’s car. Russell accelerated and the result was a car chase of 62 police officers through Cleveland. The chase ended after 13 cops fired nearly 140 bullets into the couple’s car. Russell and Williams are dead. They were both unarmed.

Emily Vigneaux, a Boulder Preschool teacher, created portraits of Malissa Williams and her friend, Timothy Russell, hoping they were images their families would appreciate. (Paste their names)

The nonprofit Stitch Their Names Memorial Project began in July 2020, as unrest and protests continued to swell after the murder of George floyd, breonna taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, triggering a report on racism in the United States

Johannes encouraged the embroiderers to reach out to relatives of those featured in the project. But in many cases, she said, it was difficult to reach them.

Sheneen McClain, mother of Elijah McClain, who was arrested by police in August 2019 on his way home from a convenience store and died after paramedics gave him a lethal dose of ketamine too large for his weight bodily, said she was disappointed that the organization did not contact her before painting her son’s portrait.

“I don’t know why when people die, or when someone is murdered by the police, it automatically means that this person is available to all the others, even if they are gone,” she said. declared. She questioned the purpose of the Stitch Their Names Memorial Project and accused many people of “riding the sleds” of murdering someone else “for their own benefit”.

“I had a lot of trouble with people using Elijah’s name, even in the state he grew up in, Colorado, without asking if that was OK,” said Sheneen McClain. “I literally had to get a copyright, so people will stop.

“I did this because too many people and organizations were using my son for their own gain,” she said.

Sheneen McClain has the power to stop people from using her son’s image or his dying pleas to make money, said Aaron P. Bradford, one of his lawyers. “A grieving family has the right to control how the image or likeness of their lost family member is used by others for profit. ”

Johannes, who created the portrait of Elijah McClain, said she tried to contact Sheneen McClain via a private message on Twitter. But she said she never heard back from Sheneen McClain, who likely missed the post as she was inundated with many more requests in the summer of 2020, when her son’s death took hold. started to be re-examined during the Black Lives Matter protests in Denver. This year, policy changes, criminal charges against the police and paramedics involved and a $ 15 million settlement for McClain’s family have drawn even more attention to the 23-year-old’s death.

On Tuesday, Johannes said she covered Elijah McClain’s portrait until it can be permanently retired, once the quilt is in her possession in February. She also deleted her entry from the organization’s list. online database of biographies and photos of people commemorated by the quilt.

“Honestly, I feel bad,” Johannes said. “At the end of the day, we don’t want to hurt her anymore,” she said of Elijah McClain’s mother.

Johannes, who also painted portraits of Breonna Taylor and Brayla Stone, now working to find places to display the quilts in each of the states where the people in the portraits lived.

“We would love for the quilts to eventually make it to Colorado,” Johannes said.

The two quilts – one consisting of 48 portraits and the other containing 68 – have so far been exhibited in Mississippi and South Carolina, and will then move to New Jersey and then to Iowa. The quilts remain at each host site for one or two months. The duvets are reserved until April. Schools, museums, art galleries, cultural centers and other establishments wishing to welcome them, free of charge, can contact the organizers via the Stitch Their Names Memorial Project website, Johannes said.

When Johannes embarked on the memorial project last year, she had no idea that hundreds of embroiderers would come to help support the mission. Johannes, a high school math teacher in Oregon, said she stopped the project once 116 profiles were created, so the quilts could be shipped comfortably across the United States, although she said she recognized that the project included only a small fraction of the blacks killed. by police, racism, bigotry and other forms of hatred.

The Stitch Their Names Memorial Project in some ways echoes the Names Project AIDS Memorial Quilt, designed in November 1985 by Cleve Jones, a gay rights activist in San Francisco who sought to commemorate those who died of AIDS.

The AIDS Memorial Quilt was first unveiled more than 30 years ago on the National Mall, with 1,920 signs, a small fraction of the more than 20,000 Americans who had already died of AIDS. In 2016, the duvet had increased to 54 tonnes, including around 50,000 panels dedicated to more than 105,000 people, according to the national aids memorial and a Washington Post article written by Jones.

Michael Brown is one of the most prominent contemporary names commemorated by the Stitch Their Names project. He was killed by a policeman in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014. (Stitch Their Names)

The quilts for the Stitch Their Names Memorial Project were not designed with the AIDS Memorial Quilt in mind, Johannes said.

Once the two contemporary quilts make their way to all 30 states, Johannes hopes to find them a permanent home.

“I don’t want them just in a closet somewhere,” she said in a recent phone interview. “But I want them to live somewhere permanently, or with someone they have meaning for, and where they can maybe be displayed permanently.”

FOLLOWING: To learn more about the Stitch Their Names Memorial Project, visit

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