The Wonder of You: Photos & Words by Black Girls & Women

This exhibition was curated as a surprise and affirmation for the girls participating in our 2018 Black Girl Image Maker Workshop at Center for Documentary Studies. Eleven stunning photographers answered our call, sharing images of Black girls and women they adore. Together, we created a space where girls could see reflections of themselves in both the beloved people in the images and the girls and women behind the lens.

This exhibition was curated with love by Jamaica Gilmer, TBP Founder/Executive Director and Khayla Deans, TBP Multi-Media Strategist with tremendous and laughter-filled support from Courtney Reid-Eaton, CDS Exhibitions Director and Ambria McNeill, 2017-18 CDS Exhibitions Intern. The exhibit will be on view at the Center for Documentary Studies through the end of the summer. The image featured above is by Jacqueline Perry, one of the artists in the exhibit and a Black Girl Image Maker Coach.

Featuring work by:

Kennedi Carter

Age: 19

Hometown: Durham, NC

Favorite Food: Mac n Cheese

Why do you love photography? I love photography because it gives me the ability to capture the beauty in people.

Why are Black girls beautiful? Black girls are beautiful. We are resilient, we are loving, and we are creative.

 

Trécii P. Cheeseboro


Age: 15

Hometown: Harlem / Manhattan NYC

Favorite Food: Thiebou Jen and Jasmine rice (African fish, with grilled onions and raw onions and rice)

Why do you love photography? I love photography, it helps one see beauty in the smallest of things. Photography teaches appreciation of the little things. You’re able to capture moments that could be long forgotten. You’re creating a time warp as well as freezing time.

Why are Black girls beautiful? Black girls are beautiful. Black girls are beautiful because of our strength, courage, passion, drive, motivation, and wisdom. Black girls are beautiful because we are warriors, champions, fighters,heroes, and soldiers. Black girls are beautiful because of our minds, because of our love, because of our hearts, because of our souls, and because of the skin we live in.

Morgan Crutchfield

Age: 28

Hometown: Durham, NC

Favorite Food: Pancakes

Why do you love photography? I love photography because it has brought so many people into my life. I have formed lifelong friends because I love photography. People let me into the most intimate moments in their lives and trust me to capture keepsakes that friends and family years from now will be able to relive; through a photo. Photography is kind of like art and magic at the same time. I can call myself a magician if I’m really in the mood and some do consider me an artist. I love what I do, it never feels like work.

Why are Black girls beautiful? We, black girls, are so beautiful because life is tough but we crush it with grace and humility. We are resilient, stay strong in our paths and lift one another up. The beauty of being a black woman is knowing the power you hold. Don’t ever forget about your power.

Dawn Michelle Downey

Age: 38

Hometown: Brooklyn, NY

Favorite Food: Pizza

Why do you love photography? I love photography because you can capture the essence of the subject, person or a still, and it will remain long after they’re gone.

Why are Black girls beautiful? Black girls are beautiful in all of our complexity. From the many different textures of our hair, down to the many different ways that we handle being out in the marketplace. From all of our different shades and complexions, to all of the different places from which we descended. There is beauty in all of our jambalaya!

Cathy Foreman

Age: 45

Hometown: Tillery, NC

Favorite Food: Linguine Vongole

Why do you love photography? Photography provides a physical and tangible means to a time that maybe your memory alone simply can’t reach.

Why are Black girls beautiful? Black girls are much more than beautiful. We are strong, innovative, adventurous, full of life and love and much more. We are made in all different shades which makes us rich unto ourselves. We are beautiful because of all we are and do.

 

Danielle Nolen

Age: 17

Hometown: Chicago, IL

Favorite Food: Cornbread

Why do you love photography? I love photography because it allows you to view things from someone else’s perspective.

Why are Black girls beautiful? Black girls are beautiful because we are so diverse! We are different shades, different sizes and shapes. We are unique and can do anything we put our mind to.

Jacqueline Perry

Age: 41

Hometown: originally from Salisbury, NC – but have lived in Raleigh for 20+ years

Favorite Food: doesn’t have a favorite food!

Why do you love photography? I love photography because it gives me the opportunity to capture a moment in time for someone. I feel like the right photo at the right time can tell a very powerful story.

Why are Black girls beautiful? Black girls are beautiful because of their joy, their strength, their ability to make the most of almost any situation. Black girls are beautiful because in them you can see a wide spectrum of skin tones, hair styles, emotions and personalities.

Courtney Reid-Eaton

Age: 59

Hometown: New York City, but lives in Durham

Favorite Food: Seafood – baked, broiled, grilled, fried or raw

Why do you love photography? Because it stops time.

Why are Black girls beautiful? Because they were made in the image of GOD.

 

 

 

Amber Carroll Santibanez

Age: 30

Hometown: Durham, NC

Favorite Food: Cereal

Why do you love photography? I found my voice through photography in the 9th grade after I was introduced to the book “Reflections in Black.” I fell in love with my skin and my hair after seeing the work of Lorna Simpson and Chester Higgins. The darkroom was a magical place. I would spend hours watching images appear. It was a powerful experience to know that I could manipulate images to show others how I saw the world.

Why are Black girls beautiful? Black girls are beautiful because they are powerful. They are the mothers of the human race. They are diverse. Their skin is smooth and rich. Their hair is magical, it has the ability to shape shift. They are resilient, nurturing, and strong.

Amaya Sam

Age: 14

Hometown: Chicago, IL

Favorite Food: Spaghetti

Why do you love photography? I love photography because it conveys your thoughts through images instead of words.

Why are Black girls beautiful? Black girls are beautiful because there isn’t one thing we haven’t done. I admire all the wonderful things that black girls have contributed to our society.

 

Dr. Deborah Willis

Age: over 60

Hometown: New York City

Favorite Food: North Carolina BBQ

Why do you love photography? The ability to tell visual stories excites me.

Why are Black girls beautiful? Maya is fun and curious and focused. I met her over three years ago and she captured my attention because of her excitement for talking about a range of topics and taking the photograph of her next to her books showed me the joy of reading is central to her.

 

Special thanks to the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University, A Long Walk Home, Inc, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture Junior Scholars Program, Southern Documentary Fund, NoVo Foundation, and William R. Kenan, Jr. Charitable Trust.

Today marks the release of the second issue of The Beautiful Project Journal, a biannual publication that gives insight on the inner workings of our collective. Our first issue, Activating Sisterhood, served as our re-introduction to the world as a collective of image makers and explored how we cultivate sisterhood with each other. In this new issue, we are digging deeper into what it means for us, as Black women and girls, to do this work that is before us.

We define our work as creating spaces for Black women and girls to confront the mass misrepresentation of our likeness in the media and the world. This publication is a manifestation of how we approach image activism through photography, writing and care. In this particular issue, you will find a personal story by our Director of Wellness Programming, Erin M. Stephens, on practicing transformative care, a compelling short story by author Afabwaje Kurian, a glimpse into the lives and work of Black women in our community, and much more.

Thank you to the wonderful women who contributed to this issue and made it happen: Pamela, Erin, Jamaica, Meron, Madylin, Kaci, and Afa. Also, much love to Mama Toni and Sakarah for blessing our cover so gracefully!

You can view Doing The Work here.  We hope you enjoy!

 

 

Written by Khayla Deans for TBP

Cover Images by Jamaica Gilmer

During a staff meeting late last year, someone brought up the idea for TBP to start releasing a newsletter again. The initial purpose was to update our community with news about what’s going on within the organization, share new TBP campaigns, and to expand our virtual community. As we continued to brainstorm what the newsletter could become, we specified the importance of creating something that feels like us — thoughtful, serene, welcoming, and creative. As image makers and storytellers, we wanted to creatively give our community a deeper look into who we are as an organization and a behind the scenes look into our work. Soon, the dream that we were creating extended beyond a simple newsletter and blossomed into something larger. And thus, The Beautiful Project Journal was born.

The Beautiful Project Journal is a biannual publication that gives insight on the inner workings of a collective of Black women storytellers who choose to empower women & girls through words and images.

Twice a year, we will release the TBP Journal under a new theme that captures an element of one of our core values. The Journal will feature words and images by members of our collective and the greater community. In this inaugural issue, we focus on what it means for us to activate sisterhood for Black women and girls. We hope you enjoy our first issue and will feel inspired to activate and cultivate sisterhood with the women and girls in your own lives. Enjoy!

We’ve been dreaming of new places, occupying new spaces, linking arms with new partners, and taking our art out and before more audiences in the world. They say dreaming is like planning . . . they say the more you dream, the more in touch you remain with all of the possibilities . . . good thing we never stopped dreaming. . . because now we get to experience what it feels like when they come true.

As part of an unprecedented $6 million program launched by the William R. Kenan, Jr. Charitable Trust, The Met, NYU, and 19 New York City organizations will explore how arts-based organizations can serve as positive, relevant, and inspiring forces in the daily lives of diverse communities. While the North Carolina-based Kenan Trust has a history of supporting New York City, this funding marks its first investment of this kind and is a significant expansion of its path-breaking work to be a catalyst for cultural organizations to increase their relationship with individual communities.”

We are elated to share that The Beautiful Project is one of 19 organizations linking arms with a host of diverse image and space makers invested in voice.

The Kenan Trust invited The Metropolitan Museum of Art to serve as an anchor organization alongside New York University’s Tisch School of Arts. Representing a wide range of groups—from the National Dance Institute to the Weeksville Heritage Center, to Sadie Nash Leadership Project, to Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater—these organizations, together, exemplify a broad scope of engagement and artistic exploration. The Met and NYU will document the group’s practices and discussions in an effort to share lessons, outcomes, and tools with communities and the field. The project will culminate in a conference and Publication.

“Philanthropic efforts in the arts must make a fundamental shift from charitable gifts that exclude to justice-oriented giving that creates equitable access for all. We believe the arts are core to giving creative voice to individuals to combat broken systems while building bridges across lines of difference,” said Dr. Dorian Burton, Assistant Executive Director of the William R. Kenan, Jr. Charitable Trust. “These 21 organizations range in size, scope, and history, but were all selected for funding because they have the ability, leadership, and platforms to  build networks that ensure the arts are not just an add-on or an optional budget line item waiting to be cut. The arts have long been a vehicle for social change and are the heartbeat of the American consciousness.”

To learn more, click here.
Photo Credit:  Khayla Deans for The Beautiful Project

In The Beautiful Project, it is our practice, to gather, in safe spaces that we create and cultivate with one another and for one another, and just be; we think aloud the thoughts that have been making their way in and through our psyche. We laugh aloud. We eat good food. We cry. We ask questions. We explore. And we do this for our wellness because we understand what it is to live in these bountiful black bodies, in this world, at this time.

Last week was an exceptionally difficult time for so many of us. So, when we gathered, we did so in hopes of working through the things that had happened in the world that made so much sense and yet none at all. We took some time to work out our thoughts through conversation and we viewed The Door by our beloved Ava DuVernay. Then we talked some more. After our talk, we created what became this manifesta, expressing the things we wanted to be reminded of in a moment like this. Each of us, bit by bit, section by section offered her thoughts, unedited. These are the things that we endeavor to claim as we continue to create space for ourselves and our sisters.

We offer this to you, in hopes that it will bring life, joy and hope to you, in the same way that it did for us. Whether you claim it and state it in part or in its entirety, our hope is that this little piece of writing will give you strength to face this new day and those ahead with a little more boldness and awareness than the days before. Love, hope and determination for all of you, from your sisters at The Beautiful Project.

 

You are not alone.

Someone else may have a better understanding or

different insight on what you are feeling and going through.

Look out for each other.

We are protectors.

We give and we show love.

We feed and nurture each other.

We show up.

Oftentimes others are able to see your strength when you can’t.

Show up for me and I’ll show up for you, over and over again.

Force me to see the sun.

I tend to get stuck, but your support carries me through.

The journey that we are embarking on, like all the ones before it, is not one of solitude;

it is one of solidarity. 

Trust the journey and the people you’ve chosen to make it with.

We have a fight ahead of us. It’s true. But it’s ok to breathe. In fact, please do?

Matter of fact, for a whole day, call your girl and breathe, play, together.

I see you. I’m here. Give me your hand. There’s nothing new under the sun. Seeds planted on sorrow’s ground yield wisdom.

Our cycle brought in a harvest enough to prepare a feast for you.

Come and dine with us. Indulge. And take leftovers.

Open the window and bask in the light. For though it may seem dormant, our joy is not gone.

It is our joy and honor to share a sisterhood story from Shawnda Chapman Brown of Brooklyn, NY, Research Analyst / Social Justice Advocate/ Jamaica’s Mom. She’s the realest. Keep reading below to find out why we think so and see if you don’t agree. We salute you, Shawnda.

My friend Felicia and I still laugh about the time she had to get me out of jail.

The episode lives in infamy alongside the time I helped her harass her boyfriend’s girlfriend at the mall, and the events that followed her introduction to the magical combination of vodka and orange soda. But little does she know, I had wandered into one of the darkest holes of my life and wouldn’t have found my way out of it without her.

I think I was in shock. I sat there on the cold cement floor for hours before I’d even thought of making my call. Who exactly would I call? What exactly would I say? And how exactly did I get here?

It was after midnight and I was in a holding tank that was buzzing with activity. One by one a steady stream of women, like myself in some way or another, got up to make their calls. We’d all found ourselves on the other side of freedom and desperately required some assistance. The cacophony of voices echoing throughout the room made it difficult to hear or be heard on the speakerphone in the center of the cell.

shawnda2016I’d always thought that many things were possible for my life. Marrying Idris Elba – eh maybe. But becoming a victim of domestic violence – not a chance in hell! After all, I’d always prided myself on being a strong woman. To feel better, I would say that my partner and I had been fighting, implying that I had a choice and that most of all, I was no victim. In actuality however, I had been getting my ass kicked with dizzying regularity for months. One evening, I was head butted so hard that both of my eyes turned black. In fact, I’d been beaten so severely that I suffered from spells of vertigo for years after the relationship ended. I suffered mostly in silence.

One of the most difficult things I have ever had to do was to pick myself up from that floor, out of my anger, and out of my shame to call for help – to admit that I needed help. When I did, I called Felicia.

The room quieted as I gathered myself and made my way over to the phone. My pants were torn on one side from waist to hip, skin and panties exposed.

“Hello?”

“Hey Felicia – It’s Shawn.”

“Oh hey girl.” Her voice was like a hug, and I desperately needed one.

“What’s happening? – I’m surprised you’re up.”

“I’m watching a documentary, Bowling for Columbine – have you seen this shit?” she asked.

Our friendship has always had an interminable quality, never limited by time or space. As such, we cackled for the better part of 20 minutes about that documentary, and about being Black in America before she stopped, as if somehow she’d forgotten her manners.

“Wait, what are you doing? – I don’t recognize this number”

“So uh yeah – I’m in Jail”

“JAIL?’

“Yes bitch – jail!” I declared.

“Why in the hell didn’t you interrupt me?” she demanded in response.

As mascara stained tears slid down the red lump beneath my eye, I took a few breaths and began to explain. It was my partner’s birthday. We had plans. I baked a cake from scratch. Scratch. Three layers, red velvet. I decorated it with fresh flowers. Used my last money to buy a present. My very last. He stood me up. Came home to change after midnight. Going to the strip club. So he said. Punched me in my eye when I protested. Like a man. Choked me. Pressed my face to the ground. Wasn’t the first time. Who the hell did I think I was? Police came. Handcuffed me when I refused to talk. They didn’t understand, I couldn’t talk. His family survived on the money he sent home each month. It was literally how they ate. I couldn’t talk. Threatened to kill his ass if he put another hand on me though. Didn’t want him to go to jail. Just wanted him to leave. Instead, I was charged with a Second Degree Felony.

“Damn! Don’t worry girl – I got you!” she assured.

And she did.

As I made my way back to my chilly spot on the floor, the buzzing resumed. Having overheard the entire conversation, the pretty chocolate girl sitting beside me looked up and smiled. “Your ass is crazy” she said “and don’t nobody know it.” We both laughed. She was right.

It’s clear to me now, that in that moment, love and sisterhood saved me. It healed me. It allowed me the space to be flawed, and confused, and human.

Not only did my friend not judge me – she sat down with me in the middle of my mess and helped me to sort everything out. During that tumultuous time we danced, we ate too much, we laughed at stupid things, we learned to make proper cocktails and I learned how to walk away.

Only recently have I been able to understand the true magnitude of that gift. Sisterhood is like a river flowing over and around you, sustaining you, filling in the gaps, allowing you to rest, polishing you, lifting you up and pushing you forward when you are unable to do it on your own. To Felicia and all of the other remarkable sisters that have poured into my river – I am here because of you, I am a better woman because of you and I am forever grateful.

They sang lullabies, wooing us away from our insecurities and fears and hang-ups and let downs . . .

Beautiful black girl, it’s okay to have those curls, it’s okay to have brown skin, you don’t have to be of the world you’re in.

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They sang empowerment chants, strengthening us to confront the lies that have been told about us, encouraging us to face ourselves full on in the mirror again, daring us to remember and know that we are brilliant, we are beautiful, we are bold and we are better, together . . .

Now that I know the truth, time to show and prove. . . Every part of me is beautiful and I finally see, I’m a work of art, a masterpiece. . . I”ll show my picture to the world, I’m not afraid to let it show, anymore.

 

They moaned sacred hymns, original compositions, those that could only be written by black women who know what it is to be misunderstood, mistreated, left out, under appreciated, offering these words hummed out in harmony as a salve, soothing the ache, making us know it’s going to be okay; we do not stand alone . . .

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If she could dance naked under palms trees and see her reflection in the river, she would know she is beautiful. But there are no palm trees and dish water bears no image.

For the length of two hours they used God given instruments; combinations of soprano, alto, tenor, notes in between and notes not yet named, creatively syncopated and composed to confirm our existence, appreciate our presence, and give earnest unto our future . . .

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It was the ultimate act of sisterhood, a story worthy of being told with black, blocked letters on manilla colored pages, but, make no mistake, this was no fairytale. This was real, and they pounded out note upon note, line for line, putting in work to passionately make us to know it is so:

sisterhood is activism.

The Sisterhood Soundscape was an experience. The lyrics have carried me and continue to do so. I hear them in my head and I let them do their work of pushing me forward, making space for me to explore myself, love myself, be myself. We were all so captivated by the work of the remarkable, significantly impressive sisters from the North Carolina Central University Jazz Studies Program Tyra Scott, Dupresha Townsend and Natalie Wallace, under the leadership of the fierce, incomparable, gracious and giving, Lenora Zenzalai Helm.

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To these women, we offer a humble thank you, understanding that there is no gift or words we could render to accurately and appropriately honor them for the myriad ways they blessed all of us that hot summer Sunday in June. They have imprinted on our hearts the messages of sisterhood that keep echoing back to us, like an audible boomerang, relentlessly reminding us that sisterhood says

I see you,
       I stand with you,
                                     I stand for you,
       I will keep you,
                                     I celebrate you.
I will hold you up and hold you down,
      I will walk with you,
                              I will weep with you and for you,
                   you are not alone.

And so, we simply say back to them, what they beautifully cantillated out to us in sweet song, with our right fists clenched tight with conviction and pride over our heart, as our anthem unto one another, determined to stay in the fight and make it, together,

We must go on this way; getting stronger everyday, can’t be too shy to say, that I really love you, sister, I love you.

Our deep thanks to the Beyu Caffe family for supporting the wonder of the Sisterhood Soundscape!

 

What had started as a sweet love affair progressed very quickly into something deep and moving; something Halle thought would last forever. So, she moved in with him with the promise of a ring, a baby in her belly and hope propelling her every move. A baby boy came and they were elated. He was a tangible manifestation of a love aesthetic; he was evidence that she had been loved well, wildly desired then favored by the Most High to steward a little soul through all of the toughest and sweetest experiences brought by life. So, when her lover’s hand slipped from her own, when his eyes averted elsewhere and his heart was no longer in the home they built together, she was lost. All the things that happen when relationships fizzle dutifully took their turn contributing to her heartbreak until she knew that it was time to go. But the problem was, where? She had left everything she knew and possessed for this love and now, here she was, back at the beginning with more needs than assets including this precious young mouth to feed. And she felt ashamed. She knew the deafening tune of the critiques and comments waiting for her.

“How could you be so naive? You never move in with a man and let him handle everything!”

“Why would you let go of your life for a man?”

“Why did you stay with him for so long?”

So it sounded like a sweet melody when Gwen called saying, “I heard about what happened. Get your stuff packed. I’m coming to get you and the baby. You can stay with me.”

Pride compelled her to refuse but reality required that she get her things and move in with Gwen and her children until she could figure out what was next.

That’s Halle. But when Michelle was being sexually harassed at work, Tina helped her find a lawyer and met her for coffee Thursdays after her counseling sessions. When Erica lost her mom to a long, fierce bout with cancer, Renee, Lisa, and Crystal were there with her and remained to care for her while she grieved and tried to get back to life afterward. At 50, when Valerie said “I do” after being convinced that she would never find a lover with whom to share her life, her girls took her on the most epic bachelorette escapade, celebrating with her for a week, reveling in her happiness. And when Kesha allowed misunderstanding and miscommunication to deepen the conflict and render her silent, Stephanie kept calling, kept texting, kept showing up because she felt that Kesha and their 5 year friendship was worth fighting for.

This is sisterhood, as activism.

Sisterhood as activism is the act of Black women engaging one another in an intimate, intentional manner for the wellness and goodness of the other; to take up one’s position as kindred, in all of its intricacies, in order to hold space for, care for, defend, cover, another sister.

So how can sisterhood be used as activism?

When a woman exercises her authority in another woman’s life to celebrate, keep, sharpen, accept without conditions or make light the suffering of another woman.

Why activism? 

Because Black woman face several micro and macro aggressions that complicate what it is for us to live with our unique aesthetic and be well and whole simultaneously. So often we take up the position of “protector of the well and good” for everyone else in our lives, to our own neglect and detriment. We must be intentional about cultivating our well of keepers and protectors through the women whom we’ve grown to love and trust.

What is sisterhood in support of/fighting for?

Wellness and wholeness.

What areas does/can sisterhood as activism address?

Trauma

The workplace

Social and Familial Relationships

Black Girlhood

Black Womanhood

And every other nuance of life.

What role do the stories of this particular campaign, The Sisterhood Storytelling Series, play?

The stories are a reminder that there are life giving people and spaces in support of our wellness and wholeness. They are a comfort and help to see a way through and out during hardships. The stories are encouragement to continue in the race, the fight, the life. Lastly, the stories are a call to cultivate sisterhood relationships for our own wellness and in support of the wellness and wholeness of the other.

Five more days. Will you join us?

Today we bring you another story from The Sisterhood Storytelling Series. Using the tenet Sisterhood of Sharpening,  Mya Hunter shares beautiful words about the strong circle of sisters in her life.

Sisterhood of Sharpening: Presence of a woman who stood by and loved you up, correcting your messiness with grace, dealing with you in honesty, even when it required that she say the hard things, all toward your growth and well being.

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When Your Sisters Are Warrior Giants of Supreme Dopeness …

My sisters are giants, and sometimes I can’t help but feel small.
Can’t help but feel like I don’t quite measure up.

Like

no matter how much I stretch my spine

and

extend each finger,

I’ll never be able to match their vastness,

their brilliance

and their dopeness.

And, I can’t help but wonder if I’ll ever be nearly as vast, or brilliant or dope as they are.

Mya Hunter imgThe women I call sisters, both blood and chosen, are warrior giants of supreme dopeness. My sisters are artists, teachers, healers, priestesses, mamas and revolutionaries.
Surrounded by that much dopeness sometimes makes it hard to see my own.
I struggle to see and sit within my own brilliance for fear that it’ll seem dull and dim, next to their intensity.

I struggle to harness the power in my own voice for fear that I won’t be heard, amid the thunder of theirs.

And the worst part is that

they know it

and love me anyway.

They tell me to speak when I can’t hear my own voice. Cut me side eye when my feelings of invisibility and smallness make me reckless. Call bullshit when I say “I can’t”, or “don’t know”.

Push me to fully step into who I was always meant to be, even if I’m not sure who that person is yet.

They see the Warrior Giant of Supreme Dopeness in me, even when I don’t.

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Mya Hunter is 25 years old from Durham, NC. She is a cultural alchemist and program director at SpiritHouse Inc. If you are interested in submitting a story to our Sisterhood Storytelling series, head to our Get Involved page for more information. Also be sure to check out the rest of our series in our Gallery.

The tragic killings, which occurred over the past week, and everything that has happened in connection to them have left so many of us feeling raw and uncovered. Some of us are enraged. Some of us are confused. Some of us are ambivalent. No matter where you land, make space for self care and remember to call on your sisterhood. Identify, point out and call on the tribe of women who have shown and proven that they will hold space for you while you journey through. Alexandra McKnight, a past intern for The Beautiful Project has so eloquently shared with us how she saw this exemplified in her life. Take whatever necessary and appropriate measures that this moment calls for in order for you to be well. And remember that you don’t have to do it alone. Be a fully participating member of the sisterhood by giving to and receiving love from the sisters around you. Together, we’re a force. #liveoutthecreed

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Because Black people don’t get depressed and you just need to pray more were the mantras that cycled through my head, making me feel guilty for feeling undone, it was often my choice to hide my depression.

Besides, Black womxn don’t have time to fall apart, that isn’t a luxury afforded to us.

So, I repeated my colored girl mantras again—

through middle school—

and again—

through high school—

and again—

through college.

After my 23rd birthday, I decided I would start seeing a therapist. We spoke about my mother and my emergence into adulthood. The words depression never entered the space between us during that six-month frame and I didn’t acknowledge her existence after our 50-minute hour. I realized, after our work had ended, that I had been hoping she would say the words I couldn’t, that she would name the pain for which I carried shame.

Fast forward two years and this time, I felt completely dismantled—crying on the kitchen floor, panic attacks when trying to leave the house, paralyzed in my bed.
Alexandria McKnight img“I get it now. I understand how someone lets the other foot slip off the ledge.” I kept my eyes fixed straight ahead of me, wiping away the tears as quickly as they spilled over.

It was a late night in a coffee shop doing graduate schoolwork and Donna was with me. We graduated from college together and she’d become my grownup best friend—Scandal and wine Thursdays after half-off sushi and Saturday morning runs before manicures.

I can’t tell you verbatim what her response was. It could have been,

“Girl, you ain’t the only one. I’ve been there. Tell me more.”

Or, she might have said,

“I know that pain. Thank you for sharing. What can I do?”

But I can clearly recall what I felt: relief. In that moment, I was free of judgment and shame; I was gifted with a space of shared pain and understanding. As a Black womxn, she saved my soul with her sympathy and ability to meet me out on that ledge.

Our friendship has been steadfast and has endured distances of over 1,000 miles—celebrating one another’s achievements, dismissing bug-a-boos, having virtual vent sessions, secretly planning her engagement proposal. And through the years, numerous life struggles have come up against us individually, and even a few within our friendship. What has never waivered, however, is her commitment to me and willingness to support me when it feels like my world is collapsing under my feet.

She has been selfless in her love towards me.

My heart soars with gratitude for Donna and the way she fearlessly embraces me at my weakest.

It is my honor to call her friend.

 

If you are interested in submitting a story to our Sisterhood Storytelling series, head to our Get Involved page for more information. Also be sure to check out the rest of our series in our Gallery.