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

On my living room wall above my couch is a large black and white photograph of three Black girls playing double dutch on a city sidewalk. I look at it lovingly every day. The photograph is a conversation starter for sure. Many people who visit my home are always drawn to the image. They look at it with familiarity—confident that they’ve seen this picture before. One time, I had a guest ask me, “Is that you?” as they pointed to one of the rope turners with glasses.

“No, it’s not me,” I answered. But I really wanted to say, “Can’t you see? That’s all of us.”

I don’t know any of the girls and women in this photograph, although I was there when this very moment was captured. Jamaica and I were representing The Beautiful Project at a wonderful opening reception in Harlem, NY for a photo exhibit called Picturing Black Girlhood. The event was full of Black girl joy, with dance battles, hand games, and cyphers of double dutch. Jamaica perfectly snapped this image of Black girlhood in action. And now it’s the first thing I see when I get out of my bed and start the day.

I write about this photo for a reason. As a collective of Image Activists, we document and collect many images at The Beautiful Project. If someone asked me to pick a photo that represents my journey at TBP, I would choose this one.

Can’t you see? That’s us.

Without question, I see myself in this photo. It recalls memories of myself as a girl and teenager jumping rope with friends and family on warm, sunny days. Honestly, I did not jump double dutch well. Getting the right coordination of my feet and the timing of the two ropes going around were too much for me to handle. My designated role was to be the turner. Now that, I could do. I enjoyed setting the pace for the jumpers, working in partnership with the other girl at the end, and watching the jumpers fearlessly master the winding ropes. Often times, after everyone had a turn jumping in the middle, my friends would take the ropes from my hands and encourage me to jump. Sometimes, I would start in the middle and they would turn slow. Other times, they would turn both ropes in a unified single direction so I can jump without the fear of the ropes hitting me. A few times, they would make me jump in true double dutch fashion. I learned to trust them and jump in on their cue. And even though I was scared of the ropes slapping me in the face as I jumped in, I always felt supported and safe in the circle that my friends and I naturally formed, surrounding whoever was jumping in the rope. That was sisterhood without me even knowing.

Through The Beautiful Project, I’ve been blessed to come to understand all the ways that sisterhood can be and how it can be activated in many spaces, including the workplace. When I was an intern, I was at the brink of my twenties and terrified of what life would require of me as a Black woman. Yet TBP patiently gave me the tools and care strategies I needed to manage my insecurities and questions about womanhood.

Since my first introduction in college, I’ve kept a steady eye on the work that TBP was putting out in the world. I watched from afar. I watched up close. I had a hand in shaping some of the work. I observed TBP during many years all while wishing and dreaming to do this work full time. Jamaica, Pamela, and Erin have been keeping their eyes on me as well, steadily making space and holding the ropes for me. Watching to see when I would be ready to jump. And that time finally came. In January of this year, I took the leap to join TBP full time and relocate to Durham, NC.

My journey with The Beautiful Project has been like a fun double dutch game with friends. Now, I do recognize this is an oversimplification of our values, mission, work, and impact in the world. But when I look back at this picture, I feel us. I feel the joy, the connectedness, and the focus of the girls as they jump and turn the ropes. I feel their confidence and trust in each other. I feel how the girls at the end of the ropes turn with wide circular motions, getting low with the jumper to match her energy. I imagine they are saying, “We got you,” as they look her in the eye and make space for her to fly if she wanted to.

Time and time again, the women of TBP look me in the eyes to say the same assuring words. And I reflect those words and that truth right back.

Written by Khayla Deans and Photography by Jamaica Gilmer for TBP

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

We offered these words as an affirmation for the speakers and organizers of the 2017 Grantmakers for Girls of Color Convening. We offer them now to those who commit their time and emotional labor to ensure and protect space for Black girls and women all over the world.

 

written by Pamela Thompson + photography by Elisabeth Michel for TBP

Tis the season to be thankful! This is typically the time of year when most of us get super sentimental and take inventory of our lives, pausing for a moment and becoming careful to choose gratitude for all of the people, things and circumstances that shape our reality daily.

It is, indeed, a beautiful time of year that can also be laden with a bit of sorrow for those of us whose past 365 have not been optimal or have been filled with loss and heartache. Still, the messages all around beckon us to point our hearts and minds toward thankfulness. It can seem like there is no room for anything else. Just thankfulness. And joy. And gladness. As our little girls bounce home with school made artwork reflecting these same sentiments, there is the temptation to be lulled into the season and put every other emotion aside in order to be fully present with the folks around us who seem to have drank every cup of the thankfulness tea they were offered. I’d just like to offer one small edit to all of this merriment.

We have had a YEAR, y’all.

It has certainly been FULL of so many opportunities to witness the awesome moments and achievements of Black women and girls all around the world, even noting the strides seen as recently as in the election that took place earlier this month. We have so many reasons to celebrate and be thankful for ourselves; our perseverance, determination, tenacity, boldness– all attributes that have led us to some noteworthy and incredible victories. But, we have had a YEAR, y’all. The frustrations and ignorance represented in the present administration, protests (spanning from Charlottesville and the NFL to the women’s marches and other gatherings both well known and little known), the recent upsurge of attention to the sexual violence and harassment done to women in Hollywood and Capitol Hill (and the response to said claims in comparison to how cases centering Black women have been handled. Yea. It’s a thing) . . . the list goes on.

There seems to be an undertone coming from critics of folks who have decided to seek change and activate, that we should just be . . .thankful. So much progress has been made, so many folks fought for us, even being told that it is disrespectful to want more equity, or to want change and that we should just be happy that things have progressed to the point where they are . . . . BULL. We want more and that has nothing to do with our gratitude for the good, no matter how small, that we have experienced thus far.

So, this Thanksgiving season, know that you can be thankful and unsatisfied. You can look across the room at your family or friends and you can see the gaps in your reality and theirs and you don’t have to quiet that voice that tells you there is more, go get it. Black women are a mighty people group with sizzling blood coursing through our veins. We are ever thinking, ever resolving, ever planning, ever caring, ever activists prepared to pave a new road for ourselves or the ones we love. We cannot help it. We have to be intentional about taking time to care for ourselves because our autopilot is set to make sure everyone else is good. A mind like that always sees the gaps! So you decide. You can choose to take a break from caring and just choose thankfulness. We get to do that. You can choose to think about how you’ll continue to push for better circumstances for yourself and your people. Or, you can do both. Just know that a thankful heart can also be an unsatisfied one . . and that can lead to great things . . .

 

Photo Credit: Pirkle Jones, found on the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture

“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.