#dearblackgirl: You are a lighthouse in the harbor made to shine.

“Shine, black girl, shine.”  As you prepare for the rest of the week, let Shannon Wilson’s #dearblackgirl letter serve as a motivator. We will definitely remember Shannon’s words as members of our team head to New York City to attend the Picturing Black Girlhood Exhibition and Black Girl Movement Conference later this week! Thank you Shannon for taking up your pen!

 

Dear black girl,

So often you are told what you are not, but I am you and you are me, and  I know what you are.

You are:

You are the essence of life.

You are the song of joy in my life

You are beautifully and wonderfully made

You are an overcomer.

You were made in love by hands so divine.

You are an intricate piece of artwork

You are beautifully and wonderfully designed

By the God of all things supreme and sublime.

You are a light house in the harbor made to shine in the darkest of times

So shine, black girl

Shine.

I love you,

Shannon

Post #25-11692944_525472564271904_1856110923_n (1)Shannon Wilson is a 21 years old  Student of Social Entrepreneurship and Organizer with Black Lives Matter Chicago. She is from Hazel Crest, Illinois. 

Many thanks to all of the lovely people that came out and celebrated the opening of our Self-Care exhibit at the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University! If you are in the Durham area and want to check out the exhibit, it will be on display until May 15th! In the spirit of practicing self care, today we have a wonderful letter written by Leslie Mac who remind us all that we are enough. Thank you Leslie for taking up your pen!

 

Dear Black Girl,

You are coming of age in such an amazing time. An era in our people’s history where our demand for equality is reaching for new heights with new goals for inclusivity & intersectionality.. A time where Black Girls & Black Women are once again leading the fight for freedom.

I want you to know you have Black Women pulling for you. That you have Black Women in your corner. I want you to know we see you and we understand your struggle. We understand the difficulty of succeeding in the center of the vortex that is the white gaze and male insecurity.

But most importantly I want you to know that there is a secret you possess.

Come closer. Lean in. It’s a secret you were born with. A secret so powerful that the world works to hide it from you. I bet you have felt it in your heart. You have probably caught it in the corner of your smile. Or had it surprise you in the twinkle of your eye in the mirror.

What is this secret? Here it is: YOU ARE ENOUGH.

Say this to yourself everyday.

Out loud.

In fact, say it right now as you read it – YOU ARE ENOUGH.

On those days when the mechanizations of the world configure themselves in such a way that it seems nothing is in your favor.

You are enough.

On the mornings when you open your eyes to the feeling that something is missing in your life. You are ENOUGH.

One those nights when falling asleep is near impossible as the pain of your world weighs on you.

YOU ARE ENOUGH.

It is a simple but revolutionary concept. Hold on to this secret. Keep it close & nurture it until the day that you see it shining out of every smile, bursting from every pore and you find yourself inspired to sit down & write a letter that begins with 3 little words… Dear Black Girl.

Post #24-LeslieMac_BioPicLeslie Mac is the Founder of Ferguson Response Network. She’s 39 years old and is from Brooklyn, NY.

We love this #dearblackgirl letter from Nkechi Onunka! It is the perfect dose of inspiration for the new week. We hope you enjoy. Thank you Nkechi for taking up your pen!

Dear black girl,

Raise your head up high and stand tall!  The backbone and leading light of our people.  The mother of the universe, queen of the land, with a warm soul like the sun connected to a powerful mind capable of changing the world.  You are the epitome of beauty, heaven sent and godly made.  Strong, resilient and everlasting despite what the world may say.

Ebony, mahogany, pretty brown…toffee, caramel our spectrum sets out like a rainbow.  Your heart is filled with gold, your eyes sparkle and twinkle like diamonds, with a spirit like precious gems.  Let your pride stretch out beautiful black girl.  So divine, phenomenal, and creative you are.  Your passion runneth over into infinite dreams with infinite possibilities to inspire and lead the world.  Believe black girl, believe in yourself, you see there is something special inside of you!  Raise your head up high and stand tall!

Post #23-IMG_20150409_082812Nkechi Onunka works as a customer service representative in Atlanta, Georgia. She is 28 years old. 

We received many, many beautiful letters for our #dearblackgirl campaign from women across the world. One of our favorite letters is written by the amazingly talented poet, artist, and activist Staceyann Chin. We are very grateful for Staceyann for using her platform lift up and participate in our campaign.

 

Dear Little Black Girl.

I am writing to you because I love you.

I do not say these words lightly. I understand the responsibility one assumes when one says, I love you, to a little Black girl. That means I will spend my whole life trying to make the world we live in a better place for you to be. So yes, I love you. I was once a little black girl myself. I remember longing for someone to say I love you to me. And for a long time, no one did. So I say it now, just in case you don’t hear it enough, or at all, and because I am the mother of a little Black girl to whom I say I love you so many times a day she gets annoyed. I hope you are being told I love you so many times you get annoyed. And if you aren’t, I hope you will one day have that kind of love in your life. As my daughter often says, “It’s annoying, but it’s also cool.”

You probably already know that there are people in the world who would try to convince you that you are not amazing. Please ignore them. They will say other mean things to you and about you because they are afraid of the magic power you carry in your beautiful Black fist. They worry that you will open your hands and something so awesome will come out that they will have to take back all the lies they told about your being less that beautiful, or smart or capable of doing anything you can dream for yourself. Remember this power. Remember to open your fists sometimes.

I imagine you sometimes watch TV. And that you see all the Disney princesses with long, straight, blond hair or red hair—hair that just doesn’t look like yours. I imagine you see the handsome prince risking life and limb to save her. I imagine you wonder why the princess doesn’t look like you. Or why the one princess who kind of looked like you was a frog for most of the film. I imagine, like my daughter once asked me, you once asked your mother or another adult in your family when you could expect to get your “princess hair.” I want to encourage you to ask another question. I want to ask, when the helpless white princess with all that hair will stop waiting for that prince to come and save her. When will she see how amazing and capable and smart she is—when will she realize that she can break her own chains, climb out of her own towers, slay her own dragons and chart her own happily ever after, all on her own? Remember that beauty is subjective—that means one person will think you unattractive, while another will think you are the most beautiful girl in the world. Remember that their opinion does not make you any more or less of anything. The only constant is what you think of yourself. If you think of yourself as stunningly beautiful, you will always remain that way.

I bet you have dreams and aspirations about the life you will live when you are grown up. I bet you have all kinds of brilliant ideas about career and family and travel and love. I want you to keep a diary. Write down all your ideas, all your dreams, all your hopes about the future—even the ones you believe are impossible. Then read books about people who did things people said they couldn’t do. Make sure that some of them look like you. Make sure you include many of the Black women who were once little Black girls who people told they couldn’t do the things they were intending. Find pictures of these amazing people. Keep these pictures in places you will continue to bump into them. And every time you see a picture of Rosa Parks, or Serena Williams or Venus Williams or Toni Morrison, or Zora Neal Hurston, or Nanny of the Maroons, or Condoleeza Rice, or Shonda Rhimes or Kerry Washington, or Viola Davis, or Angela Davis, or June Jordan, or Michelle Obama or Winnie Mandela, or Melissa Harris Perry, or Grace Jones you will be reminded that surpassing people’s expectations is not just possible, but it is quite common.

I want to leave you with this last mandate. Laugh—as much as you can. It will be your salvation. Spend time doing things that tickle you. If you are lucky, laughter will come easy to you. If it doesn’t, practice the deliberate art of seeking joy. Surround yourself with people who find value in the warmth of laughter. Build it into your day. Insist that the spaces you spend your time cultivate laughter.

These are the things I wish for you; love, and the power to ignore those who cannot see your worth, eyes that will allow you to see your own brilliance, a plethora of dreams to drive your life’s purpose, and a mandate of laughter to sustain you your whole life long.

All My love,

Staceyann Chin

Post #22-StaceyannChinStaceyann Chin is a 42 year old Writer/Activist/Performance Artist. She lives in Brooklyn, NY and is from Montego Bay, Jamaica.

This week’s inspiring #dearblackgirl letter is written by Michele Bryant Powell who reminds us to celebrate our joy.  Thank you, Michele, for taking up your pen!

Dear Black Girl,

I mourn the little girl in you.  I mourn your self esteem that has suffered at the hands of other peoples insecurity of your skin tone.  I mourn your uniqueness that has been stifled because other people placed you in a box.  I mourn your creative light that is dimmed because other people shrink from your brilliance. I mourn your bold voice because other people could not stand to hear your truth.  I mourn your truth that has been misunderstood and labeled “radical” or “playing the race card.” Yes, I mourn but I am reminded that “weeping may endure for a night but joy comes in the morning.”

My dear black girl, your joy is not defined by other people’s acceptance of you.  They tried to label you, stifle you, extinguish you and silence you.  They tried it!  However, in spite of the false messages, stumbling blocks, insubordination and blatant disrespect that has been hurled at you since you were a little girl, they did not anticipate that your joy would be your strength.  They did not anticipate that the tenacity of your ancestors and the perseverance of your culture would instill in you a sense of survival that sometimes even surprises you. They did not expect that the name calling would propel you to be proud of your blackness. They did not expect that your creativity would use their box as a think tank to strategize your next dream. They did not expect that your silence would erupt into a sweet song within your soul that would give you hope in pain, light in darkness and joy in sorrow.

My dear black girl, you have everything within you that you need to outlive your life.  You have strength, courage, light, laughter, style, class and most of all joy.  Sing your song, dance your dance, shout your story and dream your dream.  This world is not big enough to contain you. Go light it up!

Post #21-MichelePowelljpgMichele Bryant Powell is the Founder & Executive Director of Transformed Lives, Inc. She is 55 years young and is from Newport, NC. 

We are pleased to bring you a new #dearblackgirl letter to kickstart a new month.  Thank you Monique, for taking up your pen!

Dear Black Girl,

This is probably the hardest letter I’ve ever written.  I think that’s because it’s so important. It’s like someone taking the time to guide a little me. I’m certainly up for it. I want you to have the best life possible as I am pretty happy and proud of mine. I want you to know that every young girl needs guidance and encouragement along the way. Fortunately, I had no shortage of any of that in my humble beginnings. Here are just a few notes as you journey through life:

Speak up. The world deserves to hear your voice. That doesn’t  mean being loud for the sake of being loud. Anyone could do that. I’m talking about when you open your mouth, make sure what comes out is and more importantly, intelligent. It’s okay if what you have to say is not “perfect.” No one is. But the world needs to hear your point of view—no matter if your world right now is just a couple of blocks in your neighborhood.

Have a spirit of adventure. I grew up believing I could do anything and be anything. I was blessed with parents who encouraged my sister and me and never tried to stifle us. If this is not your reality, find a teacher, mentor, friend or another relative who can provide this for you. Imagination is a wonderful tool. If you don’t have access to travel and trying new and different things right now, find books to help you explore. Enjoying other people’s experiences through the written word can open up doors.

Love yourself. There is no one like you, girl. Celebrate your body, respect it and learn it. That last one will come in handy as you approach middle age when all the things we were used to be able to do easily become a bit harder. Treat your body as a temple and demand that anyone who touches it does too. Try not to eat too much garbage like fast food and sweets. Exercise regularly—bust a sweat. When I was about 60 pounds overweight, I met a bicyclist who was on a mission to ride his bike across every continent for charity. Mesmerized, I began talking to him about weight loss and fitness. He suggested I try to train for some kind of sporting event in an effort to foster regular exercise goals. A few months later I signed up for a full marathon to fundraise for “Train To End Stroke.” I finished all 26.2 miles with a time over 7 hours, but bottom line, I finished.

Don’t allow other people’s limitations affect your goals. I’ve learned this lesson the hard way. I know when you’re young you want to be part of the clique. You don’t want to stick out as being “different.”  With maturity, you’ll find that this is absolutely unimportant. Besides, there’s safety in numbers. You should stick together if you’re in a group of women and one meets a guy and tells the other two to go home without her. You need to get your friend in that scenario. I’m talking about new opportunities in travel or experiences. There were a few once in a lifetime experiences I decided to scrap because my travel partner did not have the funds or did not have the chutzpah to go somewhere or do something. Life is about moments. When you have the chance to do something, take it. It could be that the opportunity will not present itself again.

Ask for help. When things get crazy there’s nothing wrong with turning to God, your higher power or anyone you respect for assistance.  Don’t let fear overcome you and make you stuck.

There’s so much more I could tell you. I’m wishing you the best of everything knowing you’ll be just fine.

Love,

Monique

Post #20-MoniqueOliverMonique Oliver is a TV news producer from Montclair, NJ. She currently resides in Atlanta, GA and is 43 years old. 

We are grateful for another #dearblackgirl letter! Many thanks to Trina Benson for sharing her positive words!

 

Dear Black Girl

Dear Smart Girl

Dear Kind Girl

Dear Creative Girl

Dear Beautiful Girl

 

Please read this letter out loud to yourself. It is important that you vocalize

and understand that the adjective “black” can co-exist along side other

positive adjectives. It is important that you understand that inside of you

lies the potential to become so many wonderful and amazing things.

It is important because , unfortunately, you live in a world that will not

alway seek to build and uplift your self-esteem and confidence.

There are those that will desire to have you believe that your blackness is at

worst a curse and at best a handicap and a limitation.

Know that they are wrong. Know that you are deserving and worthy of every

dream and every goal that you could ever image.

Dream Big. Then Dream BIGGER. Challenge Yourself. Celebrate Yourself.  Remove

all and any fear, negativity and insecurity from your mind and your vocabulary.

As you reach your goals, remember to also reach back and uplift other black

girls. And if you ever need reassurance or a reminder that you worthy, please pull out

this letter and know that you are being rooted for and prayed for by another Black Girl.

Post #19-TrinaBensonDBGTrina Benson is a Learning Center Manager at the Boys & Girls Club of Youngstown. She resides in Mineral Ridge, OH and is 38 years old. 

This letter, written by Alesha Aris, is special because it captures a moment that many of us share — the moment when we take the step to love and celebrate our full selves. Whether it is finally accepting our own hair or bodies or our little quirks, the moment of self acceptance is a powerful one. Thank you Alesha for taking up your pen and sharing your story with us!

 

Dear Black Girl,

It took me eleven years to meet my hair. I spent eleven years agreeing that relaxers and perms were necessary to tame my black hair. That chemicals made it more beautiful, easier to touch and maintain.

And I, only a child, obliged the consensus with unwavering agreement, that it was too dry, too coarse, too hard to control, because it rebelliously snapped at fine teeth combs.

I’d routinely subject it to a “harmless“ process that’d often enough result in burns on my scalp, weakened, over-processed strands, so much so that breakage became the norm, but worse of all it never occurred to me to break away. That I, now a grown woman, kept going back. In retrospect, it sounds as if I was blindly punishing my hair for being itself.

Until one fine day, I fell in love. I fell in love with someone else’s hair. I quietly admired the fluff in her coils, her weightless puff, oh how it announced its arrival just as she’d taught it. That it has its place to be proud and loved, dawning her head like a queen. Baring it all, unwavering and untouched, another black woman taught me that my natural hair was more beautiful–easier to touch and maintain.

After months of deliberation between myself and the past, I took the scissors into my hand, cutting and snipping to only two inches above my scalp. Then I took a long hard look, as if I’d been holding my breath for eleven years. I finally took the chance to meet my hair.

With love and courage,

Alesha Aris

Post #18-AleshaAlesha Aris is a 24 years old Marketing Manager from Kingston, Jamaica.

It is the start of a new week, which means we have another #dearblackgirl letter for you. Today’s letter was penned by Hazel Cherry. Enjoy!

Dear Black Girl,

Revel in your magic. What’s the magic? It is YOU. So, take pride in the things that make you different and unique. Why? Because, “you are you and that is your power.” All of you, is beautiful. All of you, is worthy. You are worthy of being loved, appreciated and seen as precious. Hold this information close to heart. And no matter who tries to tell you different (family and friends included) you matter. Because you matter, I want to share with you some things that are important as you grow and blossom.

1.     Honor your inner voice. By that I mean, trust your gut (it’s sometimes referred to as intuition). When making decisions, big or small, ask yourself, will this make me happy? Will I feel good about myself after I make this decision? If you follow this you can look back and say no one chose this life for me, I wanted to live it.

2.     You can do anything, REALLY you can. Don’t let anyone box you in and tell you what girls can’t do. In case you haven’t heard, “girls run the world.” Don’t let words like bossy, tough, or strong make you intimidated embrace them. Because you can be whatever you want to be, without apology.

3.     Take your education seriously. I know with boys (or girls), life activities and social media it can be tempting to forgo homework or academic responsibilities. But do your best in school. I promise the pay off is so worth it. I encourage going to college, but if you decide it’s not for you that’s totally okay to. Just make sure you read as much as you can and stay in the know on the field you go into.

4.     Remember you are not alone. All the issues and questions you have and are dealing with, remember you aren’t the only one. Someone else is struggling with self-esteem or second-guessing their abilities. Someone else may be struggling with depression, heartbreak, or feeling they don’t fit in. Remember that you do not have to tackle these things alone.

5.     Your body is sacred. And let me clarify. By sacred I mean, special and beautiful. Make informed choices about what you do with it- from to engaging in sexual activity to what you eat. Our society places assumptions about the body that are really negative. But our bodies are a gift so celebrate your body. Cherish your body from your hair type to your toenails.

6.     Embrace sisterhood. Women and girls are so much more effective when we stick together.  Celebrate, compliment and love other girls. Don’t be a mean girl. Our sisters (friends, loved ones, mentors) are necessary for our survival. Remember the energy and vibe you give off will be what you receive so put out good vibes!

I leave you with this–don’t beat yourself up for mistakes. We all make them and they help us grow. Trust that the Divine has given you everything in you to have a successful life. Life can be hard and cold. You can and will make it, if you put your best foot forward and believe you can.

Sincerely,

Hazel Cherry

Post #17-Hazel CherryHazel Cherry is a 28 years old community organizer for The Expectations Project. She currently resides in Washington, DC and calls Oakland, CA home. 

 

Last week, we received a lovely comment from our friend & TBP photographer Elisabeth Michel about the power of posting these beautiful #dearblackgirl letters at the start of every week. She said that the letters are inspiring and great ways to reinvigorate our passions. We wholeheartedly agree. This week’s letter is penned by the lovely Lenora Helm Hammonds who is a jazz musician from Chicago. In this letter, Mrs. Hammonds shares so many jewels of wisdom. Read it, send it to the girls and women in your life, bookmark it for times you need a reminder that you have permission to be. Thank you Lenora, for sharing your insight with us and taking up your pen!

 

Dear Black Girl,

I offer you this letter as a salve for your soul’s journey.  I bear these words as gifts from my journey, and trust that the fragrance of these words will be sweet–though sometimes bittersweet–and that your road will be less arduous and all the more richer for this sharing.  I hope you will receive it with the compassion and love with which it was written. Writing you this letter was the first time I had to think about giving a young woman advice about what it means to be a Black Girl. Thank you for the opportunity. Thank you for reading.

My parents taught me to love God and respect myself and others, and what it means to love your Blackness. In doing so, they taught me how to maintain my dignity in any situation. This covered me and undergirded me when I grew old enough to see and feel how fiercely the forces in the world, that won’t see you as other than Black, will attempt to deny your womanhood, lie to you about your even deserving girlhood and even your utter Goddess-ness.

You are beautiful, infinitely powerful and amazing.  No one is quite like you.  You have permission to be. There is no need to wait for the permission from others. God granted this for you already. Be Bold.  Choose Truthfulness and Gentleness. You will need many tools to develop the wisdom to build the capacity to have a life well lived.  If I had to choose the tools most useful to my journey they would be Intention, Discernment and Courage.

You will not have to find a job if you seek to serve humanity with your innate gifts. You may have many gifts, but only one True Purpose. Allow your True Purpose to be fully expressed; you will find it through that which brings you the deepest joy. My art, my music, found me at 8 years old. I dreamed a big dream and refused to hear anyone who said “no” to that dream. (Anyone who is a non-believer in your dream will either eat you whole, or be removed from your life by you or God or both. Discernment will help with this) Music is where I found a place to be a Black Girl who could serve and teach.  We are all artists in some way.  Find the artist in you.

Learn how to laugh, out loud and hard.  Learn how to dance, sing, and express your joy and sorrow.  Run in the sun, and splash your feet in the mud.  Be nine years old whenever it is necessary. Eat your dessert first. Embrace challenges. Be fearless!

By God’s grace I managed to emerge whole from a chilling number of narrow brushes with death; everything from swallowing an entire bottle of baby aspirin at the age of six, to two head-on car crashes to surviving a high-rise elevator fire and being pulled out by the jaws of life, to being hospitalized with meningitis. Healing a broken heart, grieving the lost of two unborn children and the death of both my parents I thought would kill me for sure. All of these experiences bought me to one the true understanding of Intention.  God had an Intention for my life, and I could come to understand this fact only if I had the Courage to pay attention, and to ask for gift of Discernment to know clearly what that Intention was.  God has an Intention for your life, and you only need to ask for the Courage to develop the Discernment to see it and grant yourself permission to see it.

Many times you will doubt your very existence. This is normal and very human.  If you cleave close to the Creator, you will become aware of the answers you seek; they are already there, on your shoulder, like an elegant butterfly, your Spirit Guide.  These answers are available in the Stillness, they are not in the busyness, so youmust come to know the power of meditation and prayer. You must learn to know God for yourself.

When I made the mistake of using any person or circumstance as the axis around which my life would turn, I would hit a wall.  This will feel like someone took the rug out from under you and you were asleep at the wheel of your life.  It could be something that seems to come out of nowhere and knock the wind out of you. (By the way, nothing comes out of nowhere.  You create your Life). This will be your clue that you have become disconnected from Source. At these moments, be still, find your Courage, seek the Intention revealing itself amidst the circumstances, and peel away any emotional, physical and mental scaffolding (read: B.S.) preventing Discernment.

The door to Intention, Discernment and Courage is personal development.  Burrow a tunnel into the deepest recesses of your heart.  Get a Ph.D. in the subject called You. Know who you are so you can express yourself unapologetically.  Dig up your mother’s, grandmother’s and great-grandmother’s gardens. They had dreams too.  Did they find them? Answer those questions for yourself, and compare how you saw them when you were younger.  The questions will alarm you and be a clear path to understand Discernment on a visceral level. Find your questions by looking into every crevice of your Spirit that may be hiding underneath.  Honor those things that people may point out as flaws. Dogs don’t bark at parked cars, so your critics are evidence that you are traveling to your True North.  People will show you who they are, and you must believe them the first time.  The only two questions to ask yourself after you encounter disappointment or heartbreak is, 1) “Are you surprised?”, and 2) “What did you learn?” We are incredibly intuitive.  If you are surprised, you perhaps didn’t pay attention, or lied to yourself.  Then take a tally on what you learned.

Men. They join your life, not the other way around.  Until you learn that, you will always have man trouble.  Some will try to swallow you whole.  Some will honor you as a precious queen.  But only when you decide that you are already complete. When I learned these lessons about men, my real husband showed up. He is my greatest blessing and my deepest joy.

Friends.  Be a friend to yourself first, and you will teach your friends how you to treat you, and you will know how to best treat others.  You will not want to keep friends who don’t treat themselves well, or insist that you fix them or keep them comfortable.  It will be hard to recognize this distinction but if you observe and don’t transfer your expectations of them to the relationship, this truth will reveal itself.

Family.  They will be both a source of great happiness and great despair.  We don’t choose family, (including children) only our response to them.  Again, Discernment, Courage and Intention will be the doors for managing these important relationships.  Your tribe shapes you in your early years, and some of this shaping takes years to undo.  This is why personal development will be the difference between success and failure as you navigate your opportunities.  God gives you the key to mastery when you arrive and your lifetime is spent learning to believe that you have that key in your hand.

Good luck.  I love you.

Lenora Helm Hammonds

Post #16-Lenora Helm Hammonds Piano-34-EditLenora Helm Hammonds is a Wife, Mother, Grandmother, Jazz Musician, Music Professor, Composer. She is from Chicago, Illinois and is 54 years old.