Black Girls Writing Magic

There are few things more fascinating and wonder-filled as the imagination of a Black girl. Teeming with thoughts, images, dreams and possibilities, she creates worlds that Hollywood execs spend millions trying to conjure. Consider the matter of her ancestry and the nuance and magic of Black womanhood being played out all around her, and you realize that the landscape of her mind is a labyrinth of majesty comparable to none.

Earlier this year, for two days, using journaling as an impetus for discovery and exploration, we got a peek into the brilliant minds of some incredible Black girls who decided to join us for this journey. During our time together, we used film, story and experiential learning to consider the importance of values like empathy and conventions of the English language such as simile and metaphor to deepen the way our girls share their voice and perspective with the world. Our refrain for the weekend was to ask ourselves, “When the pen is in my hand, what will I write? How will I leave my mark on the world?”

It was amazing to see the girls bloom under the idea that they had the power to impact the world with their flavor of telling. The staff at TBP present that weekend used positive affirmations, our smiles, hugs, love and good food to scaffold the girls and build their confidence so that they could focus their minds, relax and learn. At the end of the weekend, the girls had been given a spark, having many fires lit on five different modules in the curriculum, that we have stoked throughout the year since that time. They have been working on writing projects that will be published in our next edition of The Journal, later this year. We are so proud to know them and walk hand in hand in with them through this process.

It was an immensely fun, powerful and sweet time, watching the reality of their intelligence and their potential flourish right before our very eyes. These girls are unstoppable. 

Words by Pamela Thompson / Images by Madylin Nixon-Taplet

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.

Journaling as Art Form is a writing workshop designed by The Beautiful Project to help girls build confidence in producing written expression, establish their voice in writing and find greater purpose & stories within their personal insight & experiences. Journaling is a very friendly, personal and accessible form of writing. The hope of such a workshop is to create a space for girls who identify with and enjoy writing, and for those who do not, to stretch out and discover the gems in stream of consciousness and reflective writing practices.

This workshop is comprised of multiple dates in 2019 to include weekly writing studio sessions where girls can collaborate and complete writing projects, once a month Saturday sessions centering care for Black girls combined with concentrated journaling practices to make for a dynamic experience. In late February, girls will experience a 2-day writing intensive. This intensive will take place on Friday, February 22nd 7pm-9pm and Saturday 23rd 9am-3pm.

HOW DO I APPLY? Black girls and young women 8yrs-15yrs old are invited to apply using this form. If you need a printed copy, just let us know and we will get it to you! Continue reading “Journaling as Art Form: A Writing Workshop for Black Girls”

During her long, dynamic writing career, Maya Angelou had a practice of going to a hotel room with her legal pad, pen and a dictionary to be alone with her thoughts and write. Influenced by Auntie Maya, we’re taking up time and space to foster our craft, in community, and we’d love to have you join us. We’ll meet twice monthly in Durham to encourage one another, be inspired and write. Together, we’ll go through The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron as a thread connecting our experiences during and between our gatherings. If you’re looking to connect with Black women writers and need some accountability to just sit down write, we hope you’ll join us in Maya’s Room.

Our first gathering will be Thursday, November 8th from 7p-8p at Cocoa Cinnamon Lakewood. For more information and to RSVP, please visit here:

*We will use the book The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron as a guide. You can purchase here.

Maya Angelou. Image by Stephen Parker, 1988


When we got engaged, my now-husband suggested we opt out of a wedding registry. I looked at him like he had grown an extra head. He emphasized that in our separate apartments we already owned what we needed to begin a life together. His suggestion to forgo a registry led to a heated argument, one where we were both entirely stuck in our respective views. Fortunately, it also sparked an ongoing conversation between us about true needs versus wants, and about doing what society expects us to do versus doing what is right for us.

Our conversations deepened, and I started reading what I could about minimalism and materialism (e.g., Shane Claiborne’s Irresistible Revolution and David Platt’s Radical), rereading the Bible with new eyes, and rethinking Jesus’ encounter with the rich young ruler. My husband recommended MLK, Gandhi, and St. Francis of Assisi, but I leaned towards the more recent wave of new monastics. In my search, I ultimately stumbled upon Project 333. I invited a few of my friends to join me in electing to wear 33 items for three months. They all declined! So I journeyed alone. At first, it was difficult working with what I saw at that time as an extremely limited closet, but I lasted through the three months. Paradoxically, fewer clothing choices meant more choices because I could see clearly all that I had available to wear. Restriction suddenly meant freedom because I was no longer caught up in what anyone else thought I needed. And no one even noticed I had restricted my wardrobe those three months. After the project, I reduced the amount of clothes I had by at least 75 percent, donating several bags of clothing to Goodwill.

I learned to start asking myself if what I desired was a need or want and to fight the urge to instantly buy something without first weighing the pros and cons or dealing with a little inconvenience. I’m not saying that wants are inherently wrong; I am suggesting that we spend a little more time considering how a trivial want may distract us from a higher want. You may want a $500 television, but what you may truly want more than that television is to become an entrepreneur. Don’t trade a higher goal for a lesser goal. What could buying a less expensive item or choosing to go without something do? The money could go towards a business course or into a savings account to ease the transition of switching careers. What if you purchased a less expensive house or car? The thousands saved could go towards acts of generosity or freeing yourself from student loans and credit card debt.

Because of this personal transformation, when my husband and I married, we did not have a wedding registry. We moved into our new apartment and considered what else we could do without.

Simplifying our possessions trickled into simplifying other areas of our lives. For example, we realized how stressed we were on Mondays due to overscheduled weekends. We rushed from brunches to birthday parties to dinners to church services to lunches, and then came back exhausted on Sunday nights. No wonder we dreaded Monday mornings! We decided to experiment with putting parameters on our time. We tried not to schedule anything before late afternoons on Saturdays, and we did our best to return home by early afternoon on Sundays. It meant turning down some invitations, which I—and a lot of people—struggle with doing. But putting boundaries on our schedules was one of the most liberating things we could do. When I mentioned the experiment to friends, a couple of them thought it was too extreme. Sometimes if we’re at one extreme, though, we have to go to the other extreme in order to find balance. This taught me that when folks are caught in a crazy busy cycle, they’ll make you feel like the crazy one when you try to step out of it. We all want to fit in, but conformity keeps us stuck. Trying what others see as strange or impossible unlocks many freedoms.

During this journey of simplification, I also began to reassess my career goals. I worked in the health field but was deeply interested in writing professionally. Freeing up time allowed me to focus on my passion. After a few years of attending writing courses and workshops, I knew the next step was to go part-time at my job so that I could dedicate even more time to writing.  It was a privilege to go part-time given my financial circumstances; however, I also know it would have been much harder if we were living beyond our means or had an expensive image to sustain. The decision to go part-time did not come lightly. Others projected their fears onto me: (1) If you go part-time, you won’t be able to buy a house. (Does everyone need to own a home? We don’t think so.) (2) If you go part-time, your health insurance premiums will increase (By how much? They did, but we researched our options and prepared accordingly.) (3) If you go part-time, you won’t get a promotion. (Did I want a promotion? I wasn’t convinced that higher positions in my organization would be fulfilling for me.). After two years working part-time, I took a leap of faith, quitting my job to pursue writing. In my last weeks, I was surprised by the number of colleagues who spoke to me in secret about wanting to pursue something other than what they were doing, and who had admired my decision to go part-time.

My journey with simplicity continues. I have not “arrived”, and I won’t pretend it’s always easy to choose the road less traveled. I keep reading to challenge myself and renew my mind. The amazing benefits and freedoms that come with daring to be countercultural help me stay the course. Some of us are so used to overextending ourselves, living stretched thin, or functioning at heightened anxiety, that we can’t even conceive of the freedom that living beneath our means and creating margin in our lives could bring. We have much more than we should, and we need much less to live on than what we think. Let’s reconsider what others say we should want and think critically about our authentic needs. Let’s think a bit more radically about what is enough for living. Because life is greater than our material world.

Written by A. Kurian for The Beautiful Project

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

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!