We Present…The Third Issue of The Beautiful Project Journal

Today marks the release of the third issue of The Beautiful Project Journal, a biannual publication that gives insight on the inner workings of our collective of Black girls and women. 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. Our second issue, Doing The Work, went deeper into what it means for us, as Black women and girls, to do this type of work that is before us. This current Journal focuses on the notion of wellness and healing for Black women and girls.

We are interrogating the nuances of self-care, exploring the necessity of collective care, and sharing tools and strategies on how to pursue wellness and healing for ourselves and each other. You will find articles and images that capture the themes of sisterhood, liberation, healing, and transformation. We hope you enjoy!

Thank you to the wonderful women who contributed to this issue and made it happen:

Editors: Khayla Deans and Pamela Thompson 

Designer: Winnie Okwakol

Images & Text Contributors: Frances Adomako, Ahmadie Bowles, Zoey Bowles, Jade Clauden, Morgan Crutchfield, Dawn Downey, Pasha Gray, Jamaica Gilmer, Alexandria Miller, Cecilia Moore, Della Mosley, Madylin Nixon-Taplet, Avery Patterson, Sydney Patterson, AlineSitoe A. Sy

Our love to Timisha, Lacquen, Margaret, Lisa, Nadia, Ashley, Krystyn, Shyla, Alex, April, Najauna, and Joan for blessing us with your presence.

I am a change maker. I am a healer. I am an activist. I am a supporter, advocate, and educator. I am a labor and delivery nurse. I wear many hats during a 12+-hour shift, but by far, the most prominent is as a Black woman first.

I am reminded of the origins of gynecology, when my ancestors were used as guinea pigs for painful, intrusive procedures and experiments WITHOUT analgesia, because it was “common knowledge” that Black people, especially Black women did not experience pain in the same way as our White counterparts. Recently I have become very introspective regarding this calling on my life. I have begun to think more deeply on the cultural and social implications of my work, and how history has continued to shape the experience of being a patient of color in a system that has never been on our side. Working as a doula led me to Labor and Delivery, with the final goal of midwifery. I was also informed by my grandmother once I began this journey, that her grandmother was a lay midwife and delivered many babies with no formal education. It is ingrained in me; similar to the way that music and dance inhabit my soul. It is inescapable. In a field largely dominated by White women, it is a joy to have patients see a nurse that looks like them that understands them on a deeper level with an unspoken connection. Birth work is intense, exciting, and a true labor of love, and it is of great importance to my identity.

One would (naively) assume that medicine has taken such strides that race should not still be a factor. It is important to note that the highest mortality rate in the U.S. in childbearing belongs to Black women. Regardless of education level and socioeconomic factors, we are three to four times more likely to die, according to the CDC.* Our babies are also disproportionately affected as a result. As highlighted in the documentary “Death by Delivery,” Black women are suffering and no one can explain why. The documentary delves into a simple answer- racism. It is because of racial bias that one of the most recognized, talented, and valued athletes of our time, Serena Williams had to convince her providers that she had a blood clot following delivery, despite having experienced this condition before. What could have happened had she not taken control of her care and insisted profusely that she be listened to?

The silver lining of the current climate of Black maternal health is the recognition that it has gotten. Collectives such as SisterSong and Black Mamas Matter are doing formidable work socially and politically, and Black Maternal Health Week garnered much attention on social media and in numerous areas of the country. The goal is to show lawmakers and change agents why reproductive justice is of such importance. For those unaware of the concept, reproductive justice is defined as “the complete physical, mental, spiritual, political, social and economic well-being of women and girls based on the full achievement and protection of women’s human rights.” It is with this concept that we hope to aid in destroying disparities. For there to be significant change, it must occur not only at a political level, but also within the hospitals, clinics, and offices where medical care is provided. Providers must eliminate bias from their practice and work to provide equal care across all patient populations.

Until we reach that point, what can we do?  Advocacy and education are the most important factors. If you are pregnant or planning to be, stay abreast of research. Even if you’re not, it is important to be a proponent of your health. Not to the extent that you become addicted to Google and become so consumed in “signs and symptoms” that you become a neurotic mess. Maintain a working knowledge of what is normal and what is not. Seek providers that care for your well being that listen and RESPOND ACCORDINGLY when you have concerns. Lastly, don’t be afraid to speak up for yourself. You know your body more than anyone so when it shows you that something is wrong, listen.

I am confident that we will make significant strides and end this crisis. If you’re interested in doing groundwork there are many avenues to pursue. Find your local reproductive justice organization or simply follow some on social media to stay aware. Read books. Become a doula, or a labor partner. Vote in local and national elections. Advocate for yourself and the women in your tribe. We have the power, strength, and fearlessness of the many women who have come before us. Let’s put it to use.

Resources for further study:

Killing the Black Body, Dorothy Roberts

SisterSong 

Death by Delivery

Black Mamas Matter 

*https://www.cdc.gov/reproductivehealth/maternalinfanthealth/pregnancy-relatedmortality.htm

Written by Kara Simpson for The Beautiful Project

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

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.

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)

Sisterhood of Suffering: Presence of a woman who stood (or stands) beside you when you could not stand on your own due to some level of suffering or loss.  Today we are grateful to share Nikki’s personal story about battling depression with the love and support of her dear friends. Listen to how her sisterhood of suffering turned into a sisterhood of triumph. Thank you Nikki for sharing your story.

 

 

 

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?

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 10 finalist for our call to Black women image makers debut TODAY!! Visit our facebook page and LIKE YOUR FAVORITE SUBMISSION!We are so grateful for all of those who took up their cameras and joined us in growing #TBPSelfCare Exhibit: A Word and Image Act of Self-Preservation and Political Warfare.

As we shared with the finalist, reviewing the world through their lens was a pleasure that moved us to tears. We see your act of self-preservation and political warfare and we cherish it. On Tuesday, August 18 @ noon, the 2 submissions with the most FB likes will be awarded:

1st prize: Cannon EOS Rebel T5 EF-S 18-55mm IS II Digital SLR Kit & Journal

2nd prize: Viewfinders by Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe & a Nikon Coolpix S2800 20.1MP

CONGRATS to our lovely Black women image maker finalists!!

Yolanda Smith

Sharon D. Johnson

Mavis Gragg

Melissa Howell

Lauren Mariel Dennis

Kiana Fleming

Karis Gilmer

Dawn Michelle Downey

Channing Mathews

Chandra Taylor