Today: A Poem by Elisabeth Michel

Please enjoy a poem submitted by Beautiful Community member Elisabeth Michel. Perhaps it will inspire you to take up your pen. In fact, Elisabeth also shares a couple of writing prompts to help.


Today, I will write.

I do not consider myself a poet.

But I think of the voices now silent,

And I remember the writers.

The dancers.

The chefs.

The travelers.

Musicians.

Scientists.

Artists.

All the ones who could. Whose individual songs rang with power, even when soft. Whose perspectives helped us see parts of life and truth that we would have otherwise missed.

The ones who, in pursuit of their purpose, shaped the world around us.

They may, at one point, have thought they couldn’t.

Yet they blessed us when they did.

So today I write.


Writing Prompts:

1. What’s something that made you smile this week?

2. For the next two minutes, write down all the activities you engaged in today, in reverse order. (Start with now, and then write what you did before this moment, what you did before that moment, etc.). Go as far as you can in 2 minutes. After the two minutes are up, review the list and see which activity/moment in your day thus far has the strongest emotions attached to it. What was that moment, and what are you feeling?

Note from Elisabeth: “A professor gave me this writing exercise in college, and I love it to this day.”

If you feel comfortable, feel free to share your answers from the writing prompts above in the comments.

Elisabeth Michel is a health equity advocate passionate about seeing a world where everyone has the opportunity to reach their maximum potential. Currently living in Michigan, Elisabeth enjoys photography, improv, playing the piano – and when spring and summer finally overtake the Michigan winters, she loves to lounge outdoors in the grass with a good book.

Photo by Kaci Kennedy

 

During this wonderful journey of having our images and words on display in the Pen, Lens & Soul exhibit at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, we must lift up and celebrate the women artists in the show and in our community who have sojourned alongside us over the years. 

A few of the women artists shared reflections about the experience seeing their work in Pen, Lens & Soul. 

How did you feel about seeing your face/words/photographs in this exhibit?

I felt valued, celebrated, and deserving to see my work, my image, and the work and images of girls and women I know at The Met. For one, the exhibit marked a moment of personal and professional growth in my existence as a Black woman and in my artistry as a writer and image maker. Seeing my words from 2016 marked how influential TBP has been in my development as a writer and scholar, and for my own individual growth. Additionally, it marks the revolutionary unity that is Black woman- and girlhood. It transcends time, age, and even location as a number of us have moved to different parts of the world. The exhibit reminds me that when we are together, we are unstoppable, and the exhibit is proof of our already innate love, respect, and care for one another.  ~Alexandria Miller 

What is special about having a whole exhibit like this dedicated to showing the perspective of Black girls and women?

“What’s most special about this whole exhibit is that we get to tell our stories our way. With how quickly the media shifts, the world only gets the highlight reels which, unfortunately, don’t show us in our light. What this exhibit offers is an intimate look into what our worlds look and feel like, how dynamic and nuanced we are and how we hold space for each other.” ~Winnie Okwakol 

What is special/important about having your work at The Met for you as an individual? 

I remember moving to NYC years ago to pursue my dream I’m currently living. To come back years later and to have my work in the most prestigious museum is, I honestly don’t have the words. Our/ my work is in the same museum as ancient artifacts! This is big! I’m still processing it. I’m thankful and honored to be a part of this collective. ~Pasha Gray

We are grateful for all of the beautiful women who have opened their hearts and minds to our purpose at The Beautiful Project and who have gifted us their love, time, words, and trust over the years. 

Some of my favorite sites to browse are interior design blogs, especially in their DIY section. Within Beautiful, we have our very own DIY guru, Pamela Thompson. She is an incredible space-maker in the home. I decided to interview her to learn how she brings wellness into the home and create intentional spaces that welcomes and affirms Black women and girls.
~Erin M. Stephens

Erin: There are many ways I can think to introduce you, such as as a phenomenally talented writer, a renaissance woman or TBP’s songstress.  But in your own words, how would you describe yourself?

Pamela: TBP’s songstress definitely captures me. I mean . . . What else is there to say?  I would like to describe myself as a poetically beautiful, brown embodiment of redemption. I don’t mean to be deep though I am clear that that sounds profuse and robust. However I do mean to speak about my essence in such an elaborate manner that it encompasses and connotes more than me. I am an amalgamation of the triumphs and tragedies of the matriarchs of my lineage.

Erin: When you create spaces for Black girls or yourself, what guides you? What do you hope to accomplish?

Pamela: When I create spaces for Black girls or for myself, I am guided by three things: I want comfort, beauty and inspiration to be apparent in the experience of being in the space. I am often thinking about how this space can facilitate our ability to gather and feel like we can rest here and let loose here and be ourselves here, while at the same time feel deeply inspired by the beauty and creativity with which the space has been crafted and curated. I like to incorporate as much natural light as possible and work with design aesthetics that include variations of any one particular color palette.

Photo by Pamela Thompson

 

Photo by Pamela Thompson

Erin: What do you enjoy about space-making?

Pamela: I love the intentionality around filling up a space with thoughtful touches. I love the opportunity to explore and dream and then bringing those imaginings to life. The process of creating is so powerful. We essentially have the opportunity to make something from nothing, or, at the very least, bring forth beauty from chaos. If we peel away from our inhibitions and fears of “not getting it right” or “making a mess” we could really see ourselves fly and create dopeness along the way.

 

 

Erin: What is your favorite way to create in your home?

Photo by Pamela Thompson

Pamela: At home, I love to cook, bake and make art. Hosting people is one of my absolute most favorite things to do. When I find or create a new recipe, I literally get giddy with excitement and anticipation at how much we are going to love to eat this thing that was made by combining a few ingredients and time. It’s the same with the art. Though I am an amateur, I resolve that by only making art for myself so I only have to make pieces that are pleasing to myself and I don’t have the pressure of “being legit”. I’ve recently started exploring with watercolor florals. This has been such a satisfying process.

Erin: Why is it important for Black women and girls to create intentional spaces in the home?

Pamela: You know, when we take what we know and marry that to whatever resources we have and create something new with it, this is multiplication at its essence. Black women and girls are innovators and artisans and we can do anything. It is important that we use our gifting and glitter in our homes to make spaces for ourselves because so much of what we do is for others. Creating intentional spaces in our homes is a form of self care. It is not only recognizing what we need but stopping to make room to actually ensure that we get what we need. It is saying to ourselves, “You, my love, deserve the best of what you offer to everyone else.”

Photo by Khayla Deans

Erin: What’s in your toolkit for crafting intentional spaces?

Pamela: Honestly, my toolkit contains audacity and imagination. Sure, I keep my glue gun hot and paintbrush at the ready, but it starts with seeing something you like and believing that you can put your pizazz on it and make it something that suits your lifestyle and meets your needs.

Erin: What tips or DIY projects can you recommend for folks who want to create affirming spaces in their own home?

Pamela: First, I think we should expand DIY projects to the kitchen. DIY also means baking or cooking up a new recipe. The aromas rising from sizzling stovetops and 400 degree ovens are rivaled only by the colors and textures of the finished product once it is placed on the table. Food is art and cooking/baking can be such fun ways to create a space that says I see you, I care about you and I want you to know that you are welcome here, in this space, with me. Another tip would be to start with what you love. Is it plush couches with fluffy pillows? Perhaps you can make your own throw pillows for the floors and couches in your home? Is it wall art? What would you like to see on your walls? Take out some materials and play around a bit. Of course there are some of us who just don’t feel creative in this way or don’t want to give our time and attention to this. For those of us like that, I would say order the things you want to see (or thrift shop hop) and you arrange them the way you want to see them in your space. Creating affirming spaces doesn’t have to be labor intensive. Creativity is multi-dimensional and is expressed in very nuanced ways. We shouldn’t create cubbies for shelves that don’t exist. Just be free and have fun with it.

For years, we’ve dreamed of this special moment of placing cameras into the hands of girls and supporting their creativity more extensively as they develop into artists. At the beginning of this year, we shared this dream with our community as we put out a call to girls who would be interested in learning more about making photographs. In April, this dream came into fruition when we launched the Black Girl Image Maker workshop.

 

By Madylin Nixon-Taplet

The workshop was a beautiful and magical experience to witness our girls learn how to tell stories through images. For two days, our spectacular team of photography coaches led our girls on a journey in creating images that reflected and celebrated how they express themselves. In addition to learning how to take photographs, the girls also experienced our surprise exhibit The Wonder of You, which was specifically curated for them to see a small yet mighty example of images of Black women and girls made by Black women and girls.  

Our words cannot express the full gratitude and appreciation that we have for everyone who participated in the workshop and made it special. We would like to thank the girls who responded to our call to become image makers and their families for trusting us. We would also like to thank the women who responded to our call to link arms with us and become photography coaches and artists in our surprise exhibit: Kennedi, Morgan, Amber, Dawn, Cathy, and Jacqueline. To the Ngozi Design Collective, we adore you and you have our gratitude for the stunning coach care packages. Deep thanks to the amazing Wonder of You artists who joined us from afar: Trécii from the Schomburg Center Junior Scholars Program, Danielle & Amaya from A Long Walk Home, Inc & luminary Dr. Deborah Willis. We are forever grateful to Courtney Reid-Eaton and Ambria McNeill for their love and support during our time at the Center for Documentary Studies. Many thanks to Jasmine, Alex, and Aeran for giving us extra hands and assistance during the workshop. Thanks to the NU Community Development Center, Student U, Durham School of the Arts and everyone who helped get the word out to girls! We would like to give a huge thank you and shout out to Courtney and Erika, the women of Piri catering who kept us well fed. And thank you to Madylin and Pasha for being our extended eyes and documenting the workshop through photographs and video, which are featured below.

 

The Black Girl Image Maker workshop was just the gateway to exciting programming and trainings for girls and young women this year. It is our mission to raise a generation of Black girls and young women who are technically trained in photography and writing and can confidently see themselves as image makers. For a fuller glimpse into the workshop, check out our short video directed and filmed by our film fellow Pasha Gray. 

Gabourey Sidibe takes on Nina Simone’s Four Women in her directorial debut of the film adaptation of the song which she has named, The Tale of Four. We’ve seen the likes of Jill Scott, Ledisi and other greats take on the song with their pounding and commanding vocals but never have we seen it iterated like this. In an interview on ABC’s The View, Sidibe talks candidly about her reasons for getting behind the camera and about her choice to depict this story in  particular. Take a look and ponder her perspective of how these four women’s stories play out on the screen. Regardless to whatever critiques, good or bad, it is very good to see more black women’s stories added to the conversation.

 

Photo Credit: Slate.Com

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

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!

 

Thank you to Lisa Maxwell, Citizen of the world, origin Jamaica, Daughter. Sister. Supergirl Amina’s Mother, Marketing Extraordinaire, Joy Giver, for sharing her story of the sisterhood of sharpening with us today. We are walking with a renewed warmth and nostalgia today.

My life is made possible by the sisterhood of sharpening.

I incarnated as a girl in Jamaica, born to a single mom and raised alongside my younger sister, Patrice whose father claimed me as his own. By all I accounts, I should be an expert at sisterhood. But have learned the hard way that sisterhood is not something you are born with but something you must invest in with love, honesty and vulnerability.

lisa-maxwell-img_1197My turning point moment came on April 1, 1990. It was the day my mother left Jamaica to make a better life for my sister and I. At the time, New York had a nursing shortage and recruited nurses from the Caribbean. In exchange for coming to New York, the nurse could secure her family members’ visa if she was successful after a probationary period. I was 14 years old and in the 3rd Form (aka 9thgrade), feeling a sense of doom at the prospects of my mommy leaving. What would happen to Patrice, then 8 years old and my newly teenage self? My mother had been our life blood leading up to this moment. Yes, she worked long hours and yes we were given much responsibility to ensure we went to and from school and remained home safely until she returned daily but what happens to two girls who now need to go live with their single dad when they had grown up to this point with their single mom? Would daddy really know how to take care of us? Could I trust him to advise me, prepare our uniforms for school and did he know how to cook for us? What buses would I now need to take from his home to school? And when would I hear my mommy’s voice again? As unlike today where there is a cell phone at the ready, then only rich people had phones in their homes. We had to walk two miles to the nearest payphone so the postal service was our best bet at communicating. And would I make any friends in his neighborhood as an awkward teenager? But despite all my questions, I must not cry and make my mommy feel bad about her sacrifice. I must not break down and have my little sister see me fall apart.

And so began the sharpening of self sufficiency and tending to my younger sister as there is no better teacher than being put in the seat of teacher.

From that moment on, I had to step up and think of those who needed me. We left Sangster’s International Airport in Kingston Jamaica and on the ride back to my daddy’s house, I had grew up. For two years, I had to walk in self direction. I for the first year, we were not allowed to travel outside the country based on the immigration and visa process so I saw my mom twice and she barely recognized me. Gone was the girl who would think nothing of playing and not doing homework and entered the girl who planned the task of washing uniforms, ironing them, cleaning the house, cornrowing my sister’s hair and then doing my homework. For those two years, I had to form a new sisterhood circle that helped me stay centered. It was comprised of the vision of my mommy’s sacrifice and supported by my oldest friend Claudia who lived in my mommy’s neighborhood and would travel home with me to my dad’s house on a Friday after school once a month and stay the weekend. I introduced her to my new friends, Rosemary and Shelly who lived in my dad’s neighborhood and went to the same school. Together we laughed, played, teased Patrice incessantly through chicken pox (another story) and awkward pre-teen girl moments and were a true sisterhood of sharpening. Together, we grew and loved and mourned when we lost Rosemary to lupus when she turned 20 years old. We lost touch in our twenties as mourning does something to you when you are touched by death in your early 20s. And now Claudia remains a dear friend and Patrice is one of the best people I know. Yet I look back at April 1, 1990 to July 4, 1992 as the turning point of my youth and the best teacher of my commitment to helping women and girls form deeper sisterhood connections.

Sisterhood is a living organism, a cycle of giving and taking. Sisterhood is like water: it cuts through the mess, it creates step change growth, it feeds me, it moves me and yes, it sharpens me. It even sharpened my cornrowing skills! Thank you to all my sister girlfriends. You give me life!

Recently I watched A Ballerina’s Tale, a documentary telling the story of Misty Copeland’s life and journey to becoming the first black principal ballerina in the American Ballet Theatre and it was then that it was confirmed for me, something that I have always known intuitively, but am coming to know more as I grow and experience life in my brown frame; the sisterhood can not only give you life, but it can save your life.

Misty described a period of her life as a young girl when she had moved to New York, away from her family, spending most of her time between school and ballet rehearsals. As she was the only black dancer in her company at that time, she felt estranged from a space that she identified as home. She was distracted and as a result, her ballet instructors noticed and called upon board member of the ABT, Susan Fales Hill, to yield to Misty and mentor her, provide care for her as a woman of color for another woman of color. But Mrs. Fales Hill did better than that. She called upon other black women that she knew had travailed and broken through, becoming the first black women in their fields to achieve their brand of greatness. In this space, Misty found her wings again. She remembered who she was and saw that her purpose as a dancer in that time, in that space, was about so much more than herself. The sisterhood that Susan Fales Hill curated for Misty Copeland’s benefit saved her life. It gave her purpose and it facilitated her ability to care for herself so that she could be well and move forward in her calling.

What we hope you will see as you read and reflect on the stories we have gathered, is that black women are invested in caring for one another. And when black women take care of one another, it’s as if we are using our very arms, legs and backs to uphold the infrastructure of every functioning system where Black women are present. That is how sisterhood becomes activism; determined and persistent, we take up our places in each others lives, ready to do whatever it takes so that we can live, be well, and stay alive in a world that can be so harsh and hostile.

It is profound.

It is undeniable.

It is true.

It is effective.

It is the sisterhood.

 

You can still join us. The deadline is fast approaching. We’d love to hear your story about sisterhood and how it has played out in your life.

 

Photo Credit: A Ballerina’s Tale, directed by Nelson George

The Sisterhood Storytelling Series is live on our site right now. As part of this campaign we will be featuring or highlighting stories from the exhibit. Today, we are excited to share Anika’s story.

Anika is a thirteen year old student at the Central Park School for Children. Here, she shares a charming story about how she has experienced the Sisterhood of Joy with her dear friend, Genevieve. Anika’s story reminds us that girls and women of all ages have experienced the sisterhood that is true and organic in the culture created by Black women. To hear more stories, check us out on The Sisterhood Storytelling Series page in the gallery!

My name is Anika Hall. One of my really good friends is Genevieve.

I have known her since we were two years old. We used to spend most days together either at her house or mine playing dress up or having tea parties. We would make forts that took up the whole living room.

No one could tell us we were not the best of friends.

After first grade we went to different schools and we didn’t see each other as much. However, we continued to go to the beach together every summer and we make Christmas cookies every year together. When we see each other it feels like only a few hours have gone by since the last time we hung out. We still laugh like we were two again.

Growing up is not easy and at times it is kind of scary, but it’s a lot easier when you have someone who has your back and doesn’t forget you.

Now that we have cell phones we talk and text everyday about almost everything. I hope our friendship lasts for a long time.

 

Interested in adding your voice to the storytelling? Know someone who should share their story of sisterhood? Come check us out!

 

 

Photo Credit: Jamaica Gilmer for The Beautiful Project