Today: A Poem by Elisabeth Michel

Please enjoy a poem submitted by Beautiful Community member Elisabeth Michel. Perhaps it will inspire you to take up your pen. In fact, Elisabeth also shares a couple of writing prompts to help.

Today, I will write.

I do not consider myself a poet.

But I think of the voices now silent,

And I remember the writers.

The dancers.

The chefs.

The travelers.




All the ones who could. Whose individual songs rang with power, even when soft. Whose perspectives helped us see parts of life and truth that we would have otherwise missed.

The ones who, in pursuit of their purpose, shaped the world around us.

They may, at one point, have thought they couldn’t.

Yet they blessed us when they did.

So today I write.

Writing Prompts:

1. What’s something that made you smile this week?

2. For the next two minutes, write down all the activities you engaged in today, in reverse order. (Start with now, and then write what you did before this moment, what you did before that moment, etc.). Go as far as you can in 2 minutes. After the two minutes are up, review the list and see which activity/moment in your day thus far has the strongest emotions attached to it. What was that moment, and what are you feeling?

Note from Elisabeth: “A professor gave me this writing exercise in college, and I love it to this day.”

If you feel comfortable, feel free to share your answers from the writing prompts above in the comments.

Elisabeth Michel is a health equity advocate passionate about seeing a world where everyone has the opportunity to reach their maximum potential. Currently living in Michigan, Elisabeth enjoys photography, improv, playing the piano – and when spring and summer finally overtake the Michigan winters, she loves to lounge outdoors in the grass with a good book.

Photo by Kaci Kennedy


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.

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

“Stretch or drown

Evolve or die

The bridge I must be

Is the bridge to my own power”

— The Bridge Poem, Donna Kate Rushin (1981)


I don’t know how it is that Black literature written decades before the moment you read it can somehow perfectly capture your current experience, but that’s what The Bridge Poem by Donna Kate Rushin did for me.

For most of my three decades (plus) on this earth I have either been a student or some type of educator. I have been in many rooms as either one of few people of color, and even more as the only girl/woman of color. At many times I have been a token whether or not I wanted to be. In these rooms I have felt the pressure to choose whether to ‘represent’ or be silent. But when I discovered this poem not only did I find words that so aptly captured my distress and frustration, but I found an answer on how to better navigate these rooms. The answer? I must be a bridge to my own power.

A couple years ago I was participating in a class discussion about a book on social control, and I found it fascinating. But part of my fascination was the distinct impression that the race and nationality of these authors (white, European and Australian) had shaped their analysis and ideas. Hoping to discuss this with the class, I brought it up— and my professor immediately shut it down. I forget his exact words, but it was something along the lines of that being “too simple” of a question. I immediately experienced intense frustration, felt many times before when White teachers had failed to recognize or address the way “whiteness” dominates the classroom. A couple examples: a reading list that fails to include a person of color author or a white guest speaker making an off-hand stereotypical comment about “those people,” which goes unchallenged by the teacher. In these cases, and countless more, I had previously become overwhelmed with emotion. I would find myself shaking in anger when I or another student of color would speak up and be ignored— and it was even worse when my voice failed me. In my distress I would find myself unable to participate in the class, sometimes to the detriment of my grades.

Now I don’t know if in that particular moment it was my professor’s inability to facilitate that discussion or his ignorance of its importance, but I caught myself before my frustration overwhelmed me. I took a deep breath, jotted down a note for myself, and followed the class to the next discussion point. I didn’t need him to validate my question, because I knew it mattered. When I left that room, I did my own research on how whiteness shapes social theory.

At some point in my twenties I discovered this poem. I learned from it that there is another option than representing us all or being silent.  I must be a bridge to my own power.

The Bridge Poem  by Donna Kate Rushin (1981)

I’ve had enough

I’m sick of seeing and touching

Both sides of things

Sick of being the damn bridge for everybody


Can talk to anybody

Without me Right?

I explain my mother to my father my father to my little sister

My little sister to my brother my brother to the white feminists

The white feminists to the Black church folks the Black church folks

To the Ex-hippies the ex-hippies to the Black separatists the

Black separatists to the artists the artists to my friends’ parents…


I’ve got the explain myself

To everybody

I do more translating

Than the Gawdamn U.N.

Forget it

I’m sick of it

I’m sick of filling in your gaps

Sick of being your insurance against

The isolation of your self-imposed limitations

Sick of being the crazy at your holiday dinners

Sick of being the odd one at your Sunday Brunches

Sick of being the sole Black friend to 34 individual white people

Find another connection to the rest of the world

Find something else to make you legitimate

Find some other way to be political and hip

I will not be the bridge to your womanhood

Your manhood

Your human-ness

I’m sick of reminding you not to

Close off too tight for too long

I’m sick of mediating with your worst self

On behalf you your better selves

I am sick

Of having to remind you

To breathe

Before you suffocate

Your own fool self

Forget it

Stretch or drown

Evolve or die

The bridge I must be

Is the bridge to my own power

I must translate

My own fears


My own weaknesses

I must be the bridge to nowhere

But my true self

And then

I will be useful

    -from This Bridge Called My Back

     edited by: Cherrie Moraga and Gloria Anzaldua


Written by Erin Stephens for TBP

“Take a day to heal from the lies you’ve told yourself and the ones that have been told to you.”

-Maya Angelou




photography by Kaci Kennedy 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

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

won’t you celebrate with me

Lucille Clifton, 1936-2010

won’t you celebrate with me

what i have shaped into

a kind of life? i had no model.

born in babylon

both nonwhite and woman

what did i see to be except myself?

i made it up

here on this bridge between

starshine and clay,

my one hand holding tight

my other hand; come celebrate 

with me that everyday

something has tried to kill me

and has failed.

HaPpY NeW YeAr Beautiful Ones!!

2017 is here and we, the staff of The Beautiful Project, are very grateful to be alive, healthy, and committed to the work of our organization. We have big plans that we can’t wait to share with you at the proper time! Until then, there is yet much work to do.

As we all well know this new year commences with the inception of new leadership in our government. For many of us, this is a scary, confusing, maddening time. While we proceed to experience all the feels and processes, we must emphasize the importance of caring for ourselves. Wellness practices are integral to our survival and armor for the fight we have ahead of ourselves as we continue to make space for ourselves to make our art, speak to the people, make moves in business, teach our children, love our people, care for our babies, and do whatever else it is that we believe we have been purposed to do. In order to ward off distractions, stay centered, clear and focused, we must be well. What is in your wellness plan? Check below for a few elements to include in your plan. Choose which components will suit your needs and be sure to implement them, choosing one practice per day, for at least thirty minutes. Be well, dear sisters, BE well.


Engage Spiritual practice: Whether you connect your spirit to power through prayer, reading truth or meditation, there are a number of spiritual practices that are helpful in realigning and anchoring your your soul.

Fitness and Nutrition: Eating healthy, delicious food and moving your body regularly are practical means to preserving your health from the inside out. Drinking plenty of water, or at the very least, more than usual, fuels your energy and aids in flushing out toxins with one simple move. If you’ve had your morning cup of coffee or tea, make the next two water.

Connect with Community: Who are your people? Reach out to them. Be with your people, either all at once, or one on one meetings over a span of time.

Make Time for your Hobby: I heard someone say, time isn’t something you find, it’s something you make. Whether its reading, writing, crafting, photography, hiking, anything that you enjoy doing, make the time for it. You will walk away with more energy and inspiration than you can imagine.

Make a Playlist: You know the songs, the ones that you jam to, the ones that make you feel seen and heard, those that make you think and those that get you going? Yeah, all of ’em. Make a playlist and put it on while you work or just as the soundtrack for whatever you are doing in your day. No time to make a playlist? Connect to Spotify, Pandora or other such streaming apps that have them already available to you.

Rest: It may seem like a given, but getting plenty of rest is a must when considering how to care of oneself well. While having the leisure to take a midday nap would be ideal, most of us can’t enjoy that luxury. Perhaps you can start by going to bed 30 mins to an hour earlier than usual? If your schedule doesn’t allow for this either, then consider observing practices that are restful. For example, cut your screen time. Avoid rousing conversations and situations where possible. Choose to be alone and spend that time being conscious of and enjoying your solitude.

We’re certain there are other practices that should be on this list. What do you do for self care? Share with the group and lets equip each other to care for ourselves well.

Move in power.

We’ve got this.

Image Credit: Weekend Collective


Black August in the Park provides spaces where people of all different corners of the diaspora and Black experience can connect with local and regional justice movements while unapologetically celebrating their blackness. Grateful the Black August in the Park team asked us to create mini photo docs of three social justice organizations who support and uplift the beauty and power of Black people: Village of Wisdom (VOW), SpiritHouse, Inc and Black Youth Project 100-Durham (BYP 100). 

This week learn more about, SpiritHouse!


SpiritHouse, Inc is a multigenerational, black-women-led organization that uses culture, art and media to support the empowerment of communities impacted by racism and poverty. SpiritHouse’s strategies include cultural organizing and coalition building and are based in community customs, culture and practices.



How do you define power?

“Sovereignty to be me.”

Tia Hall/Cultural Alchemist & Program Developer



When do you feel the most powerful?

“When I am am able to learn from my mistakes, when I am able to bring my gifts online to help myself, my family and my community, when I am able to regenerate and reanimate myself after a particularly hard period, when I cease to judge myself and other people for being human, when I find joy in simply breathing.”

Omisade Burney-Scott/SpiritHouse Board Member


“Imagine a world where everybody is safe and no one is thrown away…”

The Harm Free Zone is a series of popular education sessions designed to help people uncover and discover strategies for creating Harm Free communities. The project provides tools and trainings to both strengthen and develop our capacity to confront and transform harm.



How do you define beauty?

“When what radiates inside shines outside.”

Tia Hall/Cultural Alchemist & Program Developer


SpiritHouse is committed to using community driven strategies to uncover and uproot the systemic barriers that prevent families from gaining the resources, leverage and capacity for long-term self-sufficiency.



Visit SpiritHouse, Inc to learn more about The Harm Free Zone – Transformative Justice Training!



Brought to you by the Black August in the Park Team, the Black Market is an annual marketplace for local, regional and national Black-owned businesses to gain exposure to new clientele and network with one another. The Black Market also provides educational opportunities to prospective business owners during the annual event. Join us at the Black Market Friday, November 25 2016 11-6pm.


PHOTOGRAPHY by Meron Habtemariam,Kaci Kennedy,Madylin Vernise Nixon-Taplet and Jamaica Gilmer for The Beautiful Project


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.