Lisa’s Story of Sharpening

Thank you to Lisa Maxwell, Citizen of the world, origin Jamaica, Daughter. Sister. Supergirl Amina’s Mother, Marketing Extraordinaire, Joy Giver, for sharing her story of the sisterhood of sharpening with us today. We are walking with a renewed warmth and nostalgia today.

My life is made possible by the sisterhood of sharpening.

I incarnated as a girl in Jamaica, born to a single mom and raised alongside my younger sister, Patrice whose father claimed me as his own. By all I accounts, I should be an expert at sisterhood. But have learned the hard way that sisterhood is not something you are born with but something you must invest in with love, honesty and vulnerability.

lisa-maxwell-img_1197My turning point moment came on April 1, 1990. It was the day my mother left Jamaica to make a better life for my sister and I. At the time, New York had a nursing shortage and recruited nurses from the Caribbean. In exchange for coming to New York, the nurse could secure her family members’ visa if she was successful after a probationary period. I was 14 years old and in the 3rd Form (aka 9thgrade), feeling a sense of doom at the prospects of my mommy leaving. What would happen to Patrice, then 8 years old and my newly teenage self? My mother had been our life blood leading up to this moment. Yes, she worked long hours and yes we were given much responsibility to ensure we went to and from school and remained home safely until she returned daily but what happens to two girls who now need to go live with their single dad when they had grown up to this point with their single mom? Would daddy really know how to take care of us? Could I trust him to advise me, prepare our uniforms for school and did he know how to cook for us? What buses would I now need to take from his home to school? And when would I hear my mommy’s voice again? As unlike today where there is a cell phone at the ready, then only rich people had phones in their homes. We had to walk two miles to the nearest payphone so the postal service was our best bet at communicating. And would I make any friends in his neighborhood as an awkward teenager? But despite all my questions, I must not cry and make my mommy feel bad about her sacrifice. I must not break down and have my little sister see me fall apart.

And so began the sharpening of self sufficiency and tending to my younger sister as there is no better teacher than being put in the seat of teacher.

From that moment on, I had to step up and think of those who needed me. We left Sangster’s International Airport in Kingston Jamaica and on the ride back to my daddy’s house, I had grew up. For two years, I had to walk in self direction. I for the first year, we were not allowed to travel outside the country based on the immigration and visa process so I saw my mom twice and she barely recognized me. Gone was the girl who would think nothing of playing and not doing homework and entered the girl who planned the task of washing uniforms, ironing them, cleaning the house, cornrowing my sister’s hair and then doing my homework. For those two years, I had to form a new sisterhood circle that helped me stay centered. It was comprised of the vision of my mommy’s sacrifice and supported by my oldest friend Claudia who lived in my mommy’s neighborhood and would travel home with me to my dad’s house on a Friday after school once a month and stay the weekend. I introduced her to my new friends, Rosemary and Shelly who lived in my dad’s neighborhood and went to the same school. Together we laughed, played, teased Patrice incessantly through chicken pox (another story) and awkward pre-teen girl moments and were a true sisterhood of sharpening. Together, we grew and loved and mourned when we lost Rosemary to lupus when she turned 20 years old. We lost touch in our twenties as mourning does something to you when you are touched by death in your early 20s. And now Claudia remains a dear friend and Patrice is one of the best people I know. Yet I look back at April 1, 1990 to July 4, 1992 as the turning point of my youth and the best teacher of my commitment to helping women and girls form deeper sisterhood connections.

Sisterhood is a living organism, a cycle of giving and taking. Sisterhood is like water: it cuts through the mess, it creates step change growth, it feeds me, it moves me and yes, it sharpens me. It even sharpened my cornrowing skills! Thank you to all my sister girlfriends. You give me life!

Just before the Christmas holiday we were able to sit down and talk with Jasmine Bowles, a thirty something mother of three darling girls, making her way in the world, one daring move at a time. It was our privilege to listen to her story as she shared her way of doing life on her terms, making sure that she doesn’t get caught up in the rhythm of survival but pushes herself to thrive, if for no other reason than for the three pair of adoring eyes fixed upon her each day. Please read on if you’d like to laugh, be encouraged, be inspired and get this Tuesday morning started off right!


OK, so to get started, tell us your name and a little about yourself.

My name is Jasmine L. Bowles. I’m 36 and I live in Durham, NC.

I’m very excited about living here. I’ve been trying to get here for nearly 10 years, or for at least as long as my sister has been here. I’m from Maryland. I was born in Delaware and I was raised all over the north— NY, DC, MD, Delaware. My mom was born and raised in Delaware so that was the place you could always go if you were in between something. When we lived there, we were in the lower part of Delaware where the cornfields and beaches were, so instead of going to the pool in the summertime, we would always go to the beach. I can remember when we were in New York, my sister was one, and my mom, sister and I would get up early and ride with my mom to the train station because she worked for the FBI at the time. We were in Deer Park, Long Island. Currently, I work for Frontline Solutions and I am a student. For Frontline I am on the project management support team. I am going back to school for Business Administration and Management. I first entered college in 1996/1998. However I started working at 14 and got a taste of regular money at the pay rate of someone with a degree, so, later, with family circumstances as they were I decided to put college on the back burner and then, vowed never to go back. But Durham has been so freeing that I am going back in February. Once I graduate I may start my own business.

Did you say your mom worked for the FBI?

She laughs, Yes! It seems so weird and funny. I’m not sure what she did there, but yes, she worked for the FBI.

What does a typical day in your life look like (your routine for the day)?

Wooooo Lord! I get up between 6:30 and 7:00 am which is actually late. I take a minute to get myself together, to pray, get a jumpstart for the day. This takes about ten minutes, then I get my girls up and start drop off; one gets on the bus, the other two get dropped off at school, and then I head to work, which is an outlet for me because it’s adult time. After a few hours I head out again to pick them up. I try to get all of my appointments done while the kids are at school. After everyone is home, we come in, talk, dinner, bath and bed, so I can have my sanity again. And that does not change.

Is there anything, anyone or any part of your day that dictates how you look, i.e. how you wear your hair, your style of dress, make-up or fresh face, etc?

I feel like I do. I am very adamant about not being a frumpy mom. I say that because I know that as moms you don’t worry about how you look, you worry about how your kids look and you are the only one who looks like you’ve been caught by a ball of fire. I always go “fresh face” unless I have an event. Otherwise I choose something that makes me feel good but is very comfortable, so I’m not necessarily walking around in stilettos all the time but I do have several pair. I also enjoy going to the salon to get my hair done because those kinds of things are very therapeutic, the conversations, coming out looking good, and feeling good. Oh and it’s good for my girls too, because since I’ve done that, they expect for me to look a certain way or they will call me out in a heartbeat!

Yes! I know what you mean. I sometimes find myself caught up in making sure I get things done, making sure I take care of my girls and my husband and I leave me as the last thing. There were many days that I looked like the fire ball victim. Ha!

We share a laugh here because she is not condemning or judging me. She is encouraging me, all of us, to see the value and joy of self care and count it as much a priority as we do taking care of others.

It’s so funny though because when I was married my husband could have a bad day and not look like it but when we have a bad day it looks like we have been through it! 

How would you define beauty?

I think beauty is kind of tied to your self worth. Through the years, I’ve come to think it’s tied to how you see yourself. So you see people with things in place on the outside; makeup, clothes, and all the pretty looks on the outside, but on the inside she could be very ugly. But when someone has accepted herself on the inside there is a wall that comes down and it’s just very beautiful.

You spoke earlier about the freedom you’ve found in your new home, Durham, NC and, in listening to you speak, I see beauty in this freedom. This change seems to be exposing a very beautiful side of you.

Being in North Carolina, for me, has been a freeing moment, where I finally get to feel and discover things, how I feel, or what I think about things, all the noise has been drowned out the longer I stay. It’s all been so freeing. Maryland is where I spent most of my life. Even if I moved, I moved somewhere else north. It was a safe place. There were great things happening there but it wasn’t the place that, I believe, God would have me stay. When I had an opportunity to come here, I fought it but then when it was really time, everything fell into place and I let go and everything was freeing. Also I wanted to be closer to my sister. And, for me, there is no struggle here. There is no race here.

So what would you say to women who want to move locations: How did you come to the place where you decided, “I’m going, but I’m not running away from anything.”?

I am known to be very strong, very hard, but I have cried more in NC than I ever did in the north! But here is what I would say, self evaluate and assess the common denominator in all situations. When I did this, I discovered that it was me. So I had to figure out why I wanted to leave because 9 times out of 10, to get the change you need you don’t have to go anywhere. I have had to process things by the example of my mom, family members, environment, school setting, but what is the real reason why I want to leave? So I had to self evaluate and assess because if you just take a step back you can get a better view of the whole picture. But a lot of times we don’t want to do that. I wouldn’t be where I am if I had brought all that stuff with me. Before, I was on “the plan.” I am 36, have three kids with my ex-husband, I was searching for the career I wanted, you know, the plan. But now I am here where I am finally saying, this is what I want to do, and get confirmation from God and then, it’s go time. People say you’ve gotta go to school, if you don’t find a husband between that time, you keep going to school, then you find a husband and have kids but then nobody says what happens after that! Then you become this frumpy old lady who looks caught on fire and nobody wants that. 

At this, we both crack up laughing!

I have one best friend since 7th grade and we have been able to walk through this stuff and see this stuff together. Women can be very complicated. There are things that can be miscommunicated all the time. So you have to make sure that you take a step, even if its a quick step, take a step back to think through how things happened and why they happened, what was your part and how do you move forward now.

Would you say that there is any relationship between beauty and power?

Yes! I would because knowing yourself and feeling beautiful is very empowering. And it may not necessarily be status–social or job- but if you’re in control of what’s happening, that is very powerful. When you interact with people, they can see that in you. They say, “she is so dynamic” or “it was a quick conversation but there is so much behind her eyes.” I think that it gets misconstrued but if it is handled the right way, they can come hand in hand. I really feel like right now, I am a Christian, go hard or go home, all day, but I feel like God has given me the power to control my life, under His guidance of course, but He is giving me free will to make good choices with my life and for the first time I feel very powerful. For the first time I can make decisions and that feels very empowering to me.

And does that make you feel beautiful? 

Yes. definitely. And so does my lipgloss. But it gets to the point where I don’t care what other people think. I just am finally able to settle down and accept myself. 

Do you think you’re beautiful?

Yes, and I really want for my girls to understand that they are as well and not materialistically. I know what that is to be looking for it in other things and people and not be able to see it in yourself. That’s really important to me with my girls. I try to tell them they are beautiful and why and it can’t be materialistic. For example, I tell them, you are beautiful because you are compassionate toward your sisters. I noticed the other day that Ahmadie asked me if I thought she was beautiful and why. So I told her and I asked her if I told her that enough and she said yes but I could tell that she needed to hear it more. I have to touch them and let them know from a woman to a little girl. I have written notes to myself and reminders in my phone to tell them and do it often each day because I can get caught up in my schedule and things going on that I miss my opportunity to tell them. 

What makes you beautiful?

I think that I am beautiful because I know what I want and I know who I am.  I am very simple and I think that simplicity is beauty.

Do you think your beauty empowers you? How?

It has created a confidence in me that has changed who I let in my life. It’s my life, and when I step back and look at myself, take time to assess, it builds my confidence and gives me power to accept what I want and reject what I don’t.

Has your beauty ever been challenged?  If so, how did you overcome those challenges?

Oh definitely. Everyone in my family looks very different. We are all the different colors of the crayon box. As a kid I was always that skinny, hairy, light skinned little girl. I mean I was odd; my feet were big, I was tall, I was just odd. But I had an uncle who would tell me all the time that I was beautiful. He would give detail, like your eyebrows, or your feet are getting big but in the long run that is going to be a beautiful feature. So I would have to close my eyes and accept the truth about how I looked but know that that didn’t make me ugly. Even now that I am gaining weight more than before I want to join a gym and women look at me and think why, and that can be very vicious. All the things that were crazy to me when I was younger, now I just think that being able to identify what those things are, well they are MINE, this is what God gave so I’m gonna love it! You don’t have to, but I do. It took a long time to feel that way but now that I do, I love it. 

What would say to your younger self to encourage her to embrace herself most fully and walk confidently in the world?

I would tell her: you don’t need anyone else to tell you how beautiful, powerful or strong you are. If I could have paired up with Christ then, I wouldn’t have needed so many other outside reinforcements to help me know it so that when others would say that I was beautiful, it would feel like confirmation and not new information because I would be sure of who God made me to be. I didn’t know any of that.

What advice would you give to moms?

We can’t take care of anybody else if we don’t take care of ourselves. If I don’t do these things for myself then what am I showing my children? They can’t see me paying the bills, they can’t see me paying the mortgage because they are kids and they don’t understand that. So I have to figure it out and know that everything is going to be okay. It’s not going to blow up if we don’t have dinner on the table at 6 or if we have to choose this job that has us at work all the time and someone else has to help us take care of our kids. Hey, everything is still going to be okay! We have to realize that so that things don’t feel so crazy all the time. I wish I had known all this time that everything is going to be okay and I’m not perfect and even that is okay. The hard decisions that we have to make for our well being, for our family, they don’t have to be an explosion in your mind! Everything is ok. You have to figure out what decisions you have to make, make them and remember that it is okay to ask for help. 

Well said, Ms. Bowles. Well said.

Found this very charming article and video on Thought we’d share! Enjoy and click over to Vogue for the full article about Lupita’s braiding party!








Photo & Video Credits: Vogue Original Shorts

Khayla, a photographer and, currently, the facilitating social media intern for The Beautiful Project, was recently able to reflect on her time photographing Naa Kordei. Please take a moment to read her thoughts as she shares with us how getting “the winning shot,” wasn’t the jewel she walked away with after spending time with some beautiful little girls.


When I first spoke to Naa Kordei about the BGT exhibit, I asked her to identify one friend that she can trust for me to interview. Her eyes immediately lit up as she exclaimed, “Alyssa!! Interview Alyssa!”  Naa Kordei and Alyssa have been best friends since they met on the playground five years ago in 1st grade. Since then, they’ve been inseparable, and are often mistaken as sisters. I knew it was only right to invite Alyssa to the photo shoot.

At the start of the shoot, I could sense the girls’ excitement and nerves. Initially, I had a detailed list of poses and scenes that I wanted to take. For the first couple of shots, I positioned Naa Kordei and her friend in different poses, but something wasn’t right. They politely followed my direction, but they were a bit stiff. I knew the camera made them nervous. To loosen things up, I asked them what type of activities do they normally do when they hang out. “We usually laugh a lot and make music videos,” Naa Kordei answered. I asked to see one of their music videos and, to my surprise, they performed the entire routine. Careful not to distract the girls with my camera, I became a fly on the wall as I snapped photos of Naa Kordei and Alyssa giggling and dancing. They soon forgot that I was even there. It was amazing to see the girls open up and perform freely like no one was watching. During their 20 minute dance break, I didn’t capture a ‘winning shot’ of Naa Kordei and Alyssa. However, witnessing two beautiful young friends, carefree and content in their own skin, was well worth it.


Photo Credit: Khayla Deans for The Beautiful Project (Photo Also Featured in The Black Girl Triptych exhibit)

Here’s what our founder and co-director, Jamaica Gilmer, took away from her time with Marleigh during their photo shoot for #theblackgirltriptych!

One of the most memorable moments I had returning back to doing BGT photo shoots was with Marleigh. I did this process for years and years, then I stopped—instead taking the opportunity to train other Black women to do the work. But my time with Marleigh marked me the moment I picked my camera back up to create a Black Girl Triptych. I was nerve wrecked the whole morning—just kind of desperate to see the shot that would do her interviews justice. So, I arrive and Marleigh is almost ready. She was getting her hair done in this adorable, meticulous style. Her outfit matched just what her family described of her: Marleigh is fashion forward. Upstairs we went to get started, her brother Oliver joining us for the photo shoots. The warm up shots were fun, but not what I needed. About 15 shots in we are all getting comfortable with only a few distractions. But eventually, we hit a rhythm. So I call out “ok! let’s go to another room to dance!”. Off we go again and Oliver decides the lights need to be out, or at least occasionally blinking. And I agree because clearly, that will make the party better. They do their thing and I adjust my light in the camera so I don’t interrupt the world they just created. Then it happens. THE shot. Marleigh was feelin’ that thing, singing and dancing hard as Oliver danced around the room. I wish I could remember what she was singing, but I remember what I saw. She threw her fists in the air, threw her hip to the side, and belted a note like the world was her stage.
And I just thought, Marleigh is powerful and free.
Photo Credit: John Jackson for The Beautiful Project


A few years ago I was able to sit in an informal setting and listen to a woman with a brilliant mind lay out her thoughts in a rhythm that moved me into higher thinking. It was an amazing time of being stretched, enlightened, and encouraged on Black feminist thought and its relevance and prevalence not only in my life and work and but in the world at large. Since that time she has remained one of my most favorite professors, a woman I highly regard and a true gift. Last month I was able to spend an evening chatting with her and it was such a sweet time. I listened to her communicate her thoughts and when the conversation was finished I felt understood, seen, hopeful, and just happy. Please, get a cup of chai, green, mint or whatever tea you like, make yourself comfortable and sit a spell with us to enjoy a day in the life with Dr. Williams.

Okay, Dr. B, let’s get into it! Tell us a little about yourself starting with your full name, profession, current location and your back story (where are you from, coming of age memories, etc…).

Ok, well, my name is Bianca C. Williams. I live in Denver, Colorado and I work in Boulder, Colorado which is about 45 minutes to an hour away from Denver. I am an Assistant Professor of Africana Studies, but I am a trained cultural anthropologist and this is very important to me as this is my first love.

I’m originally from the Bronx. I grew up in Orlando, Florida and I’ve spent quite a bit of time in North Carolina for undergrad and grad school. The more time I spend in Colorado the more I learn how much of an “east coast girl” I really am! My family is Caribbean, from Jamaica. I identify as both African American and Jamaican. If I had to tell you about a coming of age memory for me, it would be learning what it meant to be African American, while having a family that is Jamaican and having connections to Jamaica. My understanding of being American was complex; there were different standards of beauty, how to be a woman, how to be Black in Jamaica and the US, so learning all of what that meant in two different cultures really affected me and the work I currently do. My grandmother was the center of our Jamaicaness; she’s the one who kept us connected. I became more personally connected to Jamaica through my research. The year I started my research my grandma died and, in that, I feel that she kind of passed the torch on to me.

What does a typical day in your life look like (your routine for the day)?


You know, everyone laughs when I ask that question!

I don’t know that there is a typical day! Well, ok, so I’m definitely a late morning person. Those who know me personally or who have had to work with me know that I am no good until after 10:30 am. Because I am a night owl I do my best writing and thinking at night. I’m typically not in bed until around two o’clock am.

Once I get up in the morning though I take some time for prayer, reading my bible, and meditation so that I can talk to and listen to God and then, hopefully, spend time doing some yoga moves. Then once I leave the house, it’s a full day of meetings with colleagues and students and in the midst of that I teach two courses. Right now, I’m teaching Black Women, Popular Culture and the Pursuit of Happiness and Ethnography of American Blacknesses. After I get home, I try to get in about thirty minutes to an hour of writing.

Okay now, I know that you’ve been very busy writing a book and are now close to finishing, so why is it that you only take thirty minutes to an hour to write each day? Why not more?

(She sighs the sigh that comes with a loaded grin and resolved chuckle.) Oh, Pamela. That’s the very thing my advisor wants to know, lol! I think that I haven’t made writing my first priority so that’s why it’s getting done at the end of the day not the beginning and I am trying to shake that. However, even more practically, my day is so busy because, contrary to popular belief, being a professor is not just one job. I have to build programs, which includes developing curriculum, raising funds, I have to brand myself as a researcher and give talks promoting my work. Then there’s the actual teaching which involves being in the classroom, yes, but also conducting and preparing research and publishing that research. And, despite advice not to spend so much time doing this as it will not necessarily work towards my ability to receive tenure, I contribute to my community because it is important to me that the work I do has real life application. So, I need for what I do to mean something to Black women in the world. Soooo, after all of this, there is really little time left to write but I try, everyday to write for at least thirty minutes to an hour.

Is there anything, anyone or any part of your day that dictates how you look, i.e. how you wear your hair, your style of dress, make-up or fresh face, etc?

Oh wow. Umm I definitely grew up as a jeans and t-shirt type of girl. Growing up I paid no attention to society’s definition of beauty. I was over thirty when I started wearing make up, much to my mom’s chagrin, and I didn’t start carrying a purse until college. I was a bookbag, jeans, sneakers type of girl. As I got older I became more aware of what society thought was beautiful and this impacts how I present myself to the world, particularly in the classroom. So when I go in the classroom I wanna feel strong and confident and sometimes that means wearing makeup–which I have noticed I do feel more courageous when I have on make up. So, sometimes my classes, or being at the university, will require that. I think growing up as a Black girl in the US made me aware that being beautiful was to have long blonde hair, not thick curly hair like mine. There weren’t many affirmative Black standards of beauty around. I just felt like it was too much work to modify myself to fit what everyone else thought was beautiful. Now as I dress I am aware of what people think beauty should look like and I try to find my own definition of beauty somewhere around that.

As it concerns my hair and how I wear it, I became natural two years ago and that has been quite the journey in learning what my hair wants to do– sometimes I fight it to do what I want it to, and sometimes I let it free to do what it wants to do! Depending on how my hair feels can affect how I express beauty that day.

How would you define beauty?

I would define beauty as confidence and courage. That is what comprises beauty.

Would you say that there is any relationship between beauty and power?

Yes. I think the way that I define beauty, as confidence and courage, both require deep awareness and love of self and that can make you feel empowered. So if one does not know who they are and does not love who they are, that can make you feel helpless and powerless. And I think part of the reason why the work that organizations like The Beautiful Project do is important, is because the things you see around you in the world such as music, film, advertisements, they help you figure out who you are and who you are not, what you are and what you are not. So it’s important for people to see some reflection of themselves in the world to help them build confidence.

Do you think you’re beautiful?

Most definitely. (She giggles.) I think like everyone else, particularly women, you have days you don’t feel your best, most confident, most courageous self. But now that I am in my thirties, something about entering my thirties made me feel more courageous about expressing who I am in the world. In my thirties, more days than not, I have come to feel more beautiful. I think, generally speaking, in the teens and twenties, as a woman in the US at least, you spend so much time trying to figure out who you are in relation to who everyone expects you to be and that can feel tough and confusing. It can make you feel anxious about defining who you are in opposition to who everyone else wants you to be and can be a barrier to you expressing that confidence. In your 30s you’ve been here long enough so that if your definitions of beauty don’t align with others, you’re ok and you know that everyone else will be ok. It takes some time to gain that small piece of wisdom.

What makes you beautiful?

Oh wow. I think the first thing that comes to mind when I think about my beauty is my smile. I know that my smile can light up a room and draw people in. I know that my eyes have a deep sense of knowing. I am very interested in people’s stories, where they come from, what’s important to them and my eyes can look like they are listening for that deeper sense of meaning. I think, for me, it’s easier to talk about when I feel beautiful. I feel beautiful when I sit under the sun and soak up the heat. When I am around my really close girlfriends and my sister, I feel so beautiful. There is something about love and acceptance of self and total support that can make you feel really beautiful. Some of my best moments and memories of my beauty are with my close friends and my sister.

Wow. That was just so good for me to hear you speak about yourself that way. Typically women find it really difficult to say what they like about themselves; we become very bashful and conservative when we have to speak well of ourselves. But it was really encouraging to hear you say what’s good about you and know it, own it, and love it, proudly.

That “beauty as boldness and courage” is something that women grow into. In my twenties I would not have said any of that, lol!

Do you think your beauty empowers you?

I think my sense of self, the way I am constantly trying to grow in being confident and courageous, it empowers me to share my story with others. So me and Tami Navarro, who I know that you have interviewed here, have been writing a lot lately about the strength and power of being radically honest. Beauty empowers me to be honest about my strengths but also my weaknesses and to share it with other people to let other people know, particularly Black girls and women, that we all struggle with our sense of self and not feeling beautiful. Sometimes the beauty is knowing that others are in the same struggle with you. So beauty empowers me to tell my story and my hope is that in sharing my story the world is being transformed for the better.

Mmmmmm…beauty as courage to be radically honest to be both strong and weak. Wow. That’s powerful. When you say, “share my story” what pieces of your life are you referring to?

My story in particular, the parts that are important to share, are the struggles I had in becoming a scholar. Going to undergrad and grad school as a Black woman. That narrative is important to share. Some people become discouraged when they encounter difficulty when trying to become a professor. There is a silence and a stigma there. I think it’s important to speak about the challenges of being emotionally well, to talk publicly about the struggle of anxiety. It is silenced throughout US culture but especially in Black communities. The silence many times is part of what traumatizes people.

Has your beauty ever been challenged? If so, how did you overcome those challenges?

Wow. Again I refer to the tomboy I was growing up. My sister and I have an AWESOME relationship but, as in many families and in school , growing up there is one sibling who is held up as the aesthetically pleasing or beautiful one and the other, the bookworm or intellectual one. My sister was the pretty one and I was the smart one. That’s how people set us up in relation to one another, but it’s not true. I have my own beauty and my sister is intelligent. But that binary messed with my self-esteem and my confidence and I know from my sister’s stories that it also messed with her confidence and self-esteem. So if I have to think back to a moment when my beauty was challenged it comes from that. In families or communities we have a habit of placing people in boxes instead of celebrating them in their diversity. Us sharing our stories with each other led my sister and I to have an awesome relationship. We overcame our insecurities through honesty. In the past, when people called her pretty and me smart we were silent. And though it made us feel “a way” we didn’t talk about it. So overcoming meant honesty and sharing those stories and together that helped us overcome challenges that resulted from that time.

What would say to your younger self to encourage her to embrace herself most fully and walk confidently in the world?

I would tell her (I even tell myself this still now) that every single person, no matter who they are, what race, no matter how much money they have, everyone has their struggles and those struggles are individual to each person. Most people are trying to find out who they are. Some find it at 12 years old others at 83. But finding self is the journey. It is the point of life. We shouldn’t focus so much on presenting a perfect self but instead on enjoying the journey of self-discovery. Everything will be fine. Everything will be as God intended. We just have to be okay with the good parts and the tough parts.


Check out this real, honest, intellectual conversation between two brilliant minds of our time.







Video from YouTube.  Posted by The New School

The Beautiful Project is an organization that uses photography and reflective workshops to give Black girls an opportunity to confront positive and negative portrayals of Black girls and Black women in the media and in their communities. Our three departments–Photography, Saturday Studios and Health & Wellness– partner with families and organizations to boldly and unapologetically create images of Black girls just as they are, daring girls and the world that engages them to see the many, varied ways every black girl is indeed, beautiful.  We have been engaged in this work for nearly ten years and are excited about this

phase as we extend our reach to impact more minds and lives.  Please click the tabs to the left to learn more about our organization.

For the first time ever our website most fully expresses who we are, what we do and allows us to engage our community as we invite y

ou to gather here with us and each other.  So, this is our place, our blog, The Lens:  our safe space nestled right here on our website.  It is our hope that our posts give voice to who we are and that our readers and subscribers are able to see themselves on our pages.  Our goal: to create a safe space where we can thoughtfully engage and enjoy each other, unabashedly rep each other and offer to the world an opportunity to see us as we see ourselves.  The Lens.   Hope you love it as much as we do!

Meet the directors, Jamaica Gilmer (Founder and Co-Director) and Pamela Thompson (Co-Director).  The pics above are from the director’s retreat, our way of gathering, re-energizing, galvanizing, and dreaming together around the work of the Beautiful Project.



Photo Credit: Jamaica Gilmer and pamela t. for The Beautiful Project