In celebration of our 15 years empowering women, we are excited to introduce a retrospective collection of success stories from previous EWI alumnae. One of EWI’s board members, Howie Feinstein, is the contributing writer for this series.
Great-granddaughter of slaves, native of rural Alabama in the crucible of racial violence, veteran of combat zones, and repeat victim of life-threatening medical conditions: Velma Crawford has endured and seen more than any of us should. Yet she perseveres, bolstered by her faith, her family ties, and the embrace of Empowered Women International.
A self-described county girl, Velma grew up in a large, inter-generational family, limited in resources but rich in heritage and stories of threat and survival handed down over the years. She learned lessons in safety when the Ku Klux Klan was night-riding, and the value of education, the only realistic avenue for moving up to a better way of life. But she also found comfort in her church and family, which enriched her childhood with story-telling, folk arts, and a steady but calm, fearless approach to life. The family quilting tradition proved particularly valuable, forming the basis for her present business, “Veez Ties That Bind,” featuring hand-made custom aprons.
Velma first came north to the Washington area at 13, for precarious cancer surgery unavailable back home. Velma picked up as much education as she could, splitting time between north and south, including a degree from an Alabama community college and a year at the University of the District of Columbia. Despite her deep connection to Alabama, heritage, that was not where opportunity for advancement existed for an African American woman.
“I knew I wanted a life better than my mom and the rest of my family. No domestic work for me. I didn’t want to settle.” Accordingly, she embarked on a federal government career, that finished at the Pentagon. It was never easy, whether danger in war-torn areas to more medical challenges, including brain surgery.
Velma did not take the traditional post-government path of retirement, choosing to return to her family craft tradition. “ I was always good at the arts. I’d been making clothes since I made my own dress at age twelve. I started making clothes for my friends in high school. So, I was really an entrepreneur back then!”
While posted to the Washington area, Velma resumed making aprons, a skill she developed from her childhood quilting instruction. An inspired storyteller in the family tradition, Velma had joined the Biblical Storytellers Society, for which she produced thirty aprons in short order. Word spread, and she soon found herself receiving steady orders. That’s where EWI came in.
“I always thought that starting a business was something for a professional, but I learned that already had what we needed; we just needed to know how to put it out there to speak it into
existence. I had heard about E.W.I. I was invited to join them, and sold my aprons at one of their marketplaces and then I took E.T.S. classes. I still keep in very good contact with E.W.I. – it is a life-long bond. E.W.I. showed me about the bonding of women. We are all from different backgrounds, but we understand each other. This is the type of close bond I grew up with!”
Fine-tuned at E.W.I., the apron business is rolling along nicely, but Velma sees changes on the horizon. She is looking to move back down south eventually, mainly for the lower cost of living, including education. That last item? Comfortable at this point in just about any environment, Velma has her sights set on returning to academia to pursue a PhD!