For students in public schools, Martin Luther King Jr. Day is a day off from classes.
But students at Dunn School in Los Olivos spent the national holiday Monday learning about social justice in various workshops.
In one, they learned about — and later re-created — protest rallies of the 1960s, and in another they used bits of King’s speeches to write poetry.
But the artistic expressions of social justice issues they created in a workshop taught by a guest instructor will eventually be carried to millions of people across the nation.
Under the tutelage of Sara Trail, each of the school’s 242 sixth- through 12th-grade students used fabric to create images expressing the issues they’re concerned about on white squares of cloth.
The squares will eventually become a giant quilt that will be displayed at the Smithsonian Institution and the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., as well as in cities across the country.
At 21 years of age, Trail is a dynamo of energy with an intense belief in quilting as a medium for protest and personal expression, which she has taken to students in more than 100 workshops.
“It’s really cool that Dunn School cares about social justice and social equality,” Trail said as she went from classroom to classroom, helping students create their images.
“I usually do these workshops in inner city schools where the students are mainly concerned about gun violence and gangs,” she said. “But this is a residential school with (students from) better economic backgrounds, and they’re concerned about air pollution and other things most inner city students don’t care about.”
The students cut out fabric to create their images by gluing them to a cloth background, then ironing them to set the glue permanently.
Trail said she’ll send the squares to volunteers, who will sew around the edges of each piece of fabric and around the outside of each square. After they’re returned, Trail will sew them into a giant quilt that will go on display in the museums and a traveling exhibit.
“Some of these images are really powerful,” she said, as she looked at the various blocks students were creating.
Carter Stacy, a 14-year-old freshman, said his square focused on air pollution with an image of a factory in a city and a man clouded in gray.
“I really enjoyed the project,” he said. “I really liked to see all these squares about what we feel is important.”
Peter Kargbo, 18, a student from Sierra Leone attending the school on a scholarship, created a black and white sun coming out of the shadows, which represented freedom finding its way into the light.
“We’re not there, but we’re almost there,” he said. “The significance of this day is there are things that will help me find myself in society.”
Two hands holding a rainbow with “Loved Ones” on the top was the image created by Sarah Kahn, 16.
“One of the biggest issues facing a lot of discrimination now is the LGBT community and their rights,” she said. “Although the law has been passed (allowing gays to marry), there’s still a lot of discrimination. There are a lot of heinous acts after their wedding.
“This will raise awareness they’re people as well and should enjoy equality as other people should.”
Trail began sewing at age 4, taught the art of needle and thread by her grandmother. At age 13, she became a nationally published author with the release of “Sew With Sara,” a beginner’s guide to sewing.
By age 15, she had her own pattern line with Simplicity called Designed With Love by Sara, sold exclusively through Jo-Ann Fabric and Craft Stores, as well as two fabric collections, with 12 fabrics in each.
But she said it wasn’t until she began attending UC Berkeley that she used her fabric talents to address social justice issues.
“I grew up in the suburbs and I was aware of discrimination and social justice at the conceptual level, but it was not until I was at UC Berkeley that I really understood it,” Trail said.
“A professor said, ‘Give me your game schedule,’” Train told students during an assembly at the end of the day. “I said, ‘What?’ He said, ‘Oh, you’re not an athlete?’”
That’s when, she said, the stereotyping of African-Americans became real to her and led her to launch Social Justice Sewing Academy, an organization that encourages young people to artistically express issues of social, racial, economic and environmental inequality.
The project earned her the Judith Lee Stronach Baccalaureate Prize, which is awarded to UC Berkeley graduates who in the year following graduation undertake a research project that “serves the public good and heightens awareness of issues of social consciousness.”
Prize recipients are awarded up to $25,000 to pursue their projects.
Now attending the Harvard Graduate School of Education, Trail spends the summer conducting six-week workshops that teach students all aspects of sewing and fabric arts as well as instilling in them a sense of social justice.
“Sewing is like a form of resistance,” Trail said. “It’s a platform to share their voice. And anyone can do this. You don’t have to be a talented artist. This is textile art.”
Since Harvard went on Christmas break, she’s conducted four shorter workshops, including the one-day event at Dunn School that was arranged by Amy Geriak, school librarian and writing teacher.
“Sewing is just a hobby of mine, but as I learned more about it, I found a lot of quilts use the medium to express ideas about social justice,” Geriak said.
She said she planned to conduct her own presentation for the students, but as she researched social justice quilts, she stumbled across Trail’s website and contacted her for advice.
“She said, ‘I leave for Harvard four days after (Martin Luther King Jr. Day), so I can come by and do it for you,’” Geriak said. “This goes beyond how to put fabric together. It speaks to some greater meaning.
“These works will be shown to the public to say, 'This is what our school believes in and as a community we stand for something greater.’”