The Art of Friendship: Navigating New Stages

Do you ever wish you could go back to save a friendship from your past, armed with the knowledge you have now? Maybe five or ten years have passed, and you recognize that if you were then who you are now, the friendship might have survived? It’ll be a while before I forget Devon*. We became friends in eighth grade and into high school. We ran track together our sophomore year of high school. Our post practice ritual was driving five minutes to the local Dairy Queen to down chocolate chip cookie dough blizzards. She excelled at track. I came in dead last during a mile run (to be fair, y’all, it was the first week of practice!). Devon was a lighter complexion. She wore make-up, got her hair relaxed and nails French manicured at a beauty salon. My skin was darker, and I rocked braids to hide the new growth from my mother haphazardly chopping off my perm after deeming the hair damaged. My nails were unpainted stubs, and I got my hair done in a woman’s basement while watching Lifetime movies on a television that was missing a volume knob. My outfit of cool back then was a white baby tee paired with the classic jean overalls (one strap undone) and black Nike high tops. 

All this to say that being opposites was most likely what connected us as friends, but this was also what allowed jealousy to sprout. And it did in small ways. Like when we both applied for a summer program I had told her about, and she was the one accepted. Or when guys talked to me only so I could talk to her on their behalf. Or when we went off to separate colleges, and during freshman year, she met the man (Chris*) that she’d eventually marry, and I dealt with the angst of dating. She got engaged to Chris right after college and was married at twenty-two. I moved to a new city in the same state for my first real job out of college. I invited her to see my new apartment; she seemed to show little enthusiasm for this new stage in my life, which felt hurtful considering I had shown excitement for her wedding and new home with Chris. We hung out for the last time a couple years after her wedding. I was more confident and finishing up graduate school. I was also working, dating, and living in a new state. During our meet-up, she spoke with a tinge of envy about my life and tried to talk to me about how she felt she was missing out because she had married young. But you’re married, was my thought so I could not understand her dilemma. We talked past each other that night, not truly listening to our anxieties or feelings. After that dinner, we must have both recognized that the friendship was drifting apart. We eventually stopped communicating.

That was over a decade ago, and I’ve reflected on this friendship through the years. I realize that many factors led to its dissolution. We were young, naïve, and inexperienced about the disruptions that impact a friendship with each life stage. We were inept at navigating these progressive stages. We let them happen to us without knowing that we had to actively adjust. I was unaware of how hard or isolating marriage must have been for her at such a young age. She was unaware of the difficulties of moving to a new state alone and building community. Her husband, Chris, was a little controlling and often dismissive of her friends. I was unaware of how a partner can influence the course and sustainability of your friendships. She was probably learning to assert herself in that relationship. People also constantly compared our love lives so I often felt like I fell short of some standard. But what if I had rejected the social comparisons, taken stock of my own emotions and addressed them with her? We lacked the tools, maturity, and foresight to consider the interplay of these factors on the health of the friendship. 

This experience made me wonder about present friendships. What mistakes might we be making in a current friendship that we’ll regret in a few years time? How much do we resist doing the hard work necessary to maintain a friendship so we excuse ourselves and state that the friendship is doomed because we are in different life stages? Oh, she’s single, she doesn’t get it. She doesn’t have any kids, she’s clueless about how much time this takes. She’s got her dream job, she won’t know what this feels like. She’s divorced, she can’t help me with this situation. We also make assumptions about how friends will react to us sharing our new stage of life with them (e.g., she doesn’t want to hear about me changing diapers). Based on our assumptions, we are tempted to shut down instead of offering advice or experiences that might help a friend who may be planning to one day enter into our current stage of life. We may become self-centered, wondering how our needs can be fulfilled instead of genuinely seeking to serve the friendship. We fail to understand that new stages of life can be lonely, painful, confusing, or challenging. How can you give your friend the time or space to adjust to a new promotion, career change, first year of marriage, master’s program, illness, divorce, caring for an infant, or the loss of a parent? Instead of demanding that she maintain the same level of communication, how do you show grace and understand that the friendship might no longer function as it once did? Depending on the level of friendship, it may also be worth it to initiate a conversation about expectations and adjustments.

We know the adage that some friends are only in your life for a season. Not every friendship that is withering needs revival. I was a friendship paramedic for years—stressing myself out, trying to hold on when it was obvious a friendship was dying.  I’m not advocating that we hold on when it’s time to let go. But we should consider in what ways we might look back ten years from now and wish we had been more patient, gracious, compassionate, or thoughtful about the stage of life in which a friend currently finds herself.

 

Written by A.Kurian for The Beautiful Project

Photography by Madylin Nixon-Taplet

*Names changed

“I do believe in an everyday sort of magic. – the inexplicable connectedness we sometimes experience with places, people, works of art and the like; the eerie appropriateness of moments of synchronicity; the whispered voice, the hidden presence, when we think we’re alone.” 

 — Charles de Lint

September 10th, Durham’s own Village of Wisdom hosted its 2017 Black Genius Fest in the heart of the city’s Northgate park. A myriad of local organizations – all of which promote the political, social and educational advancement of black youth – were invited as an outreach and resource to black families across the Triangle. The Beautiful Project set up stage creating an interactive #dearblackgirl experience that allowed families of black girls and boys alike to both receive and contribute nodes of positive thought to their sisters, daughters, mothers, friends, and selves.

 

“If you were able, what would you say to a black girl that you know and love?” This simple question proposed a creative platform of amity and inspiration to the young minds who visited the booth, and challenge these same brilliant minds to explore the magic and care in their hearts.

After reading the #dearblackgirl letters of so many other genuine souls around the world, and composing their own works of prose, they were each given the opportunity to have their imaginative excitement documented as a keepsake photograph.

While the experience was a sure way for The Beautiful Project to collaborate with so many amazing souls young and old, it also extended a dais to these same creatives for their own declaration of black girl magic and black boy joy.

We invite all who attended and even those who could not to continue the work of #dearblackgirl in their own rite. As the saying goes, “be the change you wish to see in the world,” –  be the voice that brings light and love to black girls everywhere! 

 

Written by Madylin Nixon-Taplet for TBP

Photography team: Alexis Dennis, Kaci Kennedy, Alexandria Miller, Natalie Wiggins, Madylin Nixon-Taplet, Jamaica Gilmer & Tamara Gibbs 

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!

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.

Joy. Suffering. Sharpening. Acceptance. Keeping. These are the pillars of sisterhood. These are the mile markers that remind us of where we’ve been, how far we’ve yet to go, and call up who was there to witness the journey.

Since the early part of the summer we have made space for black women and girls to tell stories recalling and detailing experiences they’ve shared with other black women and girls around the themes of joy, suffering, sharpening, acceptance, and keeping, tenets of The Sisterhood Creed, used by its members as the governing document for relating to women in The Beautiful Project and the world at large. We are so grateful for the many women who responded, using vulnerability as a vehicle to share honest accounts of courage, tenderness, strength and growth with all of us. We’ve learned so much, privileged to sit in the seat of the listener. Real sisterhood, the kind that endures, is not easy. But when its real, it’s sweeter than sweet and it moves you, bone deep. If, by chance, you missed any of the stories featured on our site, please, put on your favorite playlist, grab a cup of tea, then go back and take some time to read through them. It will be time well spent.

As we close out this campaign, we are clear that our commitment to the Creed endures. We hope that these stories have served as a tool, reminding us all of just how important and healing and necessary the sisterhood really is. We hope that you will continue to come back to the Creed and truly allow it to govern your interactions with all black women and girls. Use the chart to focus in on your personal sisterhood and figure out how to cultivate a community among them that serves and protects everyone involved. We are kindred, not alien. We are more alike than we are different. And we are here, available to love and hold one another up as we make our way through this thing called life, unified. We are so much better together.

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.

We live in a world that is mostly hostile and unaccepting of Black women and girls. If one would only take a look at the components of popular culture, politics and education there could be found a teeming sea of evidence to support that fact. We cannot be fooled by the hyper visibility of black women and girls when we are yet still quite invisible and so very misunderstood. The damage and trauma of history linger and make it difficult for black women and girls to openly question and explore blackness and womanhood. So often we are positioned to fit into systems that were created “for us” without much consideration of who we are and what we need, which most simply comes down to managing micro and macro aggressions on the daily and a push toward assimilation instead of individualization and an appreciation for the the uniqueness of the Black diaspora and the varied ways that Black women and girls illustrate their place in it.

Yet we remain.

We continue to strive, thrive, create, make space, innovate, and reinvent our realities for our very own survival, joy, comfort and peace. There is more than light at the end of the tunnel. There are Black women lined along the corridors of the tunnel whispering love, encouragement and acceptance to accompany a journey that at times can feel dark, cold and lonely. There is more than light at the end of the tunnel. There are Black women holding up that light with open arms of understanding and celebration ready to receive you when you make it to the end of whatever journey you find yourself. Don’t believe the housewife, hip hop hype. We are FOR one another more often than we are at odds with one another. Check the stories. And in the meantime, position yourself to personify sisterhood for the women in your life. It’s how we get over. It’s how we stay well here.

Sisterhood as Activism: 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.

We believe that sisterhood IS activism so we have worked to exemplify how to use sisterhood AS activism. Please consider the chart below as a facilitator for exercising more intentionality as a sister standing up and holding space for another sister.

sisterhood-as-activism-blog-chart

“To understand why black women’s public actions and political strategies sometimes seem titled in ways that accommodate the degrading stereotypes about them, it is important to appreciate the structural constraints that influence their behavior. It can be hard to stand up straight in a crooked room.” (Harris, 2011)

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!

We are very grateful for all of the stories we’ve received about sisterhood. Thank you to everyone who submitted to our Sisterhood Storytelling Series. Today, we share a great story from Tracy Howell. Enjoy!

It was 2005 went I met Amada. A friend of mine whom I worked with referred me to her as a great hairstylist.

My first time meeting her was very routine; getting to know her name and how I would like for her to do my hair. I started going to her about once a month, and gradually as the years went by it increased to weekly appointments. Over the course of the years I really learned her personality and what makes her tick, what she liked and didn’t like. I also went on some lunch outings to get to know her better including attending her wedding, where my daughter served as a hostesses. Tracy Howell imgThe one thing I’ve noticed over developing my relationship with her is the one thing we have in common with each other, and that is the desire to want more and the inability to stand BS.

We both can talk to each other about crazy stuff.

I can even say to her things I wouldn’t DARE tell another and she would never judge me. Instead,  she might even beat my story out by telling me something even crazier.

We’ve cried many times just talking and frustrated about our personal lives, being a mother, the struggle to get ahead, and the struggle of not having to struggle. But every single time we have a conversation and we are at the end of that conversation,

I feel like the battle may have not have been won,

but I am ready to take it on.

We energize each other often, but opposite of that we sometimes are just as tired with each other struggles, but never will we say anything about it. We just end the conversation by saying, “Holla at you later girl.” You know when we call each other we can detect what kind of mood we are in because we start our phone conversation off with,

“Girlll, Whatcha ya doing?”

Then we both burst into laughter.

Or she will call and say,

“Let me borrow $500,000 and I will pay you back 10 years from now.”

Again, we burst out laughing, knowing neither one of us has that kind of money.

Some days we can burst into song in the salon, dancing, and smiling all day while both of us are waiting for one another to say “I’m hungry. What we eating today?”

She knows what I’m thinking and I know what she’s thinking.

I never have to be professional.

I never have to be mommy.

I never have to be anything but myself with her.

No multiple hats to wear.

Sometimes we can go days or weeks without talking, but can pick back up just like it was yesterday.

She’s my sister at heart and together we stand!