A Virginia-Based Nonprofit That's Using Art To Heal Mental Health Issues In Underserved Communities

Mental health in underserved communities around the globe is a HUGE issue that is not talked about enough. We chatted with Natasha Underdue who TODAY just launched, Sew Distinca nonprofit organization dedicated to empowering, challenging and provoking the minds of creative young men and women of color residing in low socio-economic communities in Richmond, Virginia. 




You founded Sew Distinc as an outlet for black and brown youth experiencing trauma - what inspired this?

Sew Distinc originally began as an organization on the campus of Elizabeth City State University in 2008. I founded it then to celebrate the distinct qualities black women possess. After graduation, I was inspired to transform Sew Distinc into a nonprofit organization after leading a girls group in the mental health field. We used art as a form of expression and I was able to learn so much about them that their words could not express. The children we serve do not have outlets to freely express themselves, in order to make sense of what they go through on a daily basis. I grew up like the children we serve, and I used art since I was 4 as my coping mechanism. I didn't know it at the time, but art literally saved me from a self-destructive path. So in a way, I founded Sew Distinc to heal my inner child, I wanted too create a program that I wish I had at their age.

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The programing for this non-profit focuses on art therapy ... what is art therapy and why is this an important medium for underserved youth? 

Photo courtesy of Sew Distinct

Photo courtesy of Sew Distinct

Art therapy is a form of therapy that doesn't solely utilize traditional verbal expression as a form of healing. It is often times used for clients who can not verbally discuss their issues due to their traumas. Art aids in creating a bridge between the client  and therapist through the subconscious processing. Art allows for the subconscious to speak, which is why we use art as a tool for healing. Because we aren't therapists, we use aspects of art therapy without fully going into the therapeutic aspect. However, if we feel higher care is needed we provide referrals to art therapists in the community. 



How do you believe your organization aids in the overall wellness of melanin communities?

Photo courtesy of Sew Distinct

Photo courtesy of Sew Distinct


Because of the adult-like issues teens within the community face daily, they are often seen in a negative light by their parents, teachers, police and other adults who should protect them. They are viewed as if they are adults who don't care about their futures, in reality aren't adults and somehow our conscious minds believe they should behave as adults. We strive to be the adults that see them as they are, protect them and assist them in healing themselves so they can reach their full potential- whatever that may be. It is important for us to show them that there are adults that look like them that want to invest in them unapologetically. We want to show them what it looks like to be successful black leaders and we do this by partnering with black business owners and college students. Overall, to our participants we represent black excellence, and we strive to teach them that any person of color from any background could also represent black excellence. I think that aids in the overall wellness of the melanin communities because a major setback within our communities is low self-esteem- believing that they aren't worthy of being excellent and we just can't sit back and let that cycle continue. 







Tell us a bit more about the 7 chakra collection you have

The collection is called Major7. When I started, I didn't really know how much detail and time I would put into each piece I just let everything happen organically. I only knew that I wanted to use my craft to bring awareness to the chakra centers in a dope way. There are way more than 7 chakras in the body but the major 7 are well known but not to the communities we serve. So I wanted to create a collection that would grasp people's attention and spark a conversation that educates people on the energy channels within all of us. Each piece has crystals that resinate with each of the 7 chakras. They are all hand sewn on a piece of felt material, which was important to me because I wanted to preserve the quality of the pieces. 

Photo by MelaninASS

Photo by MelaninASS


What are your goals in say the next 5 years? 

Our ultimate goal for Sew Distinc in the next 5 years is to transform from a summer program to a year-round program. We are striving to be as big as a 'Boys & Girls Club or Girls Inc.' because they serve thousands of children yearly. Our main goal as we grow is to maintain quality service while serving as many children as possible. We hope to inspire the next Basquiat, or Maya Angelou; we would like to touch the lives of future fashion designers, models, writers photographers, fine artists, graphic designers, philanthropists and billionaires to flood these industries with bad ass black artists.