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