On last Sunday, a group of black women and girls gathered in Philly for the #WhatIKnowNow brunch, to benefit the work of the Uniquely You Summit. There was food, laughter, live music, vendors, and a lot of connections & re-connections. But more than that, there were conversations.
Writer Dominique Matti set the event off- literally- by reading her article, “Why I’m Absolutely an Angry Black Woman.” Let’s pause here. Because that’s what we did on Sunday while she read- paused in the line for food, paused mid-forklift- to listen for what she was going to say next, because of how we felt hearing the words that came before. If you haven’t read her piece (I scrolled past it several times on FB), you need to take a moment and read that. Afterwards, a panel of teen girls took the stage to talk about #blackgirlhood. They talked about issues like: cultural appropriation, the Spring Valley student who was video taped being assaulted by a police officer, Raven Symone, being the first or “only,” the obsession their generation seems to have with creating mixed babies and what life is like for each of them as black girls. What stunned me, though, was they they talked about their experiences with being labeled an #angryblackwomen ALREADY. It was raw, unfiltered & much needed space for the adults in the room to hear what they said (even if they didn’t agree) and for the teens to express themselves.
After the #blackgirlhood panel, a group of women you should (mostly) know in the entertainment industry took the stage for the #WhatIKnowNow panel. Moderated by radio personality Tiffany Bacon, actresses Sheryl Lee Ralph, Naturi Naughton, Shasheer Zamata, Teyonah Parris & Dee C. Marshall gave some blackgirltalk that can only be described as #flameemoji #crystalballemoji #onehunnidemoji. Here’s a lil taste:
“There’s more to healing than Jesus & Oprah.” “There’s nothing wrong with getting your imbalances balanced.” ~ Sheryl Lee Ralph
“The silence and stima around mental health & mental illness is killing us.” ~ Naturi Naughton
“If you are in a relationship with someone & there is no peace in your mind & spirit; that’s not the person for you.” – Teyonah Parris
They talked about: why black women are angry & have been historically, mental health and mental illness, safe sex, relationships, being a woman in the entertainment industry, the importance of voting, having a career and a family, sisterhood, self-esteem, and the beauty of us. At the end of the panel, the moderator asked them each to share one final (supposed to be 30 second) reflection, “I learned my greatest lesson when….What I Know Now is…” Here’s what I was able to capture:
“I learned my greatest lesson when I learned to stop looking for validation in others. I don’t need anybody else to tell me I’m great. What I know now is I am awesome. I have a great voice, a great mind. My whole presence is valuable. I matter, no matter what anyone else says.” ~ Naturi Naughton
“I learned my greatest lesson when I chose to take a drama class. When I chose to move to NY, when I chose to pursue acting and I didn’t have a lot of support. Choosing to do things I like and was interested in, choosing to do things I was passionate about and turning that into a career. What I know now is not to wait for anyone to give me permission.” ~ Shasheer Zamata
I learned my greatest lesson when I learned to trust God and that I am enough. To surrender ALL of me to him and His will. I am doing good and continuing to remind myself to do that. What I know now is that the most important thing is to have peace of mind with whatever you’re doing. ~ Teyonah Parris
My greatest lesson came on September 11th. I was working on Wall Street and I had to climb down 43 flights of stairs to safety. The day after, when I woke up and was presented with the question, if I died yesterday, would I have any regrets. What I know now is to seek meaning and purpose for your life. Ask God the question why am I here and where am I going? What I know now is when you seek God, you will have the most amazing life ever, you will never make the wrong decision and you will have an abundant life, as it your privilege and what God has for you. ~ Dee C. Marshall
I learned my greatest lesson at one of my lowest moments ever. What I know now is that no matter what, some one is watching you, someone is learning from you. And even when you think you’re not enough, you may be putting out the very thing that someone else needs. Try to do the best thing for you. Someone is picking up your cues. ~ Tiffany Bacon
At the (very) end of the brunch UYS founder, Shaleah Sutton shared a great analogy about taking the train to the Ritz Carlton for a final walk-through before the event and being so preoccupied with wondering where the deposit money was going to come from, that she missed her stop on the train and had to walk ~ far and in very high heels ~ to get back to where she needed to be. What she learned then, was that “when you fear, you miss your destination. When you fret, you miss your mark.”
Now, I “like” a lot of these women, from what I’ve see them do professionally, for who I understand them to be personally, and for what it seems they represent. But after hearing them speak, unscripted, I have another level of respect for them. It’s one thing to tip toe around representation of women in the media and be politically correct because you never know who’s listening. It’s quite another to call out networks (OWN) for giving women (Evelyn Lozada) whose behavior towards other women was the definition of less than, her own TV show, when there are women who have something to say, whose work is rooted in positivity don’t get those kinds of breaks. And Sheryl Lee Ralph did that. And the entire room felt that.
Here’s the thing. It’s enough just to be a black woman – to take care of yourself and to care for yourself, in a world that largely doesn’t. It’s enough to remain sane and get through life with your self-esteem and self-respect (however you choose to define that) in tact, while you are constantly under attack. Those who enough left over to pour some of what they’ve learned, and a little bit of what they have, and tbh maybe even some that they don’t have to give, into other black girls and women~ that’s what we mean when we say #blackgirlmagic <- it’s what happens when we get in a room and starting talking about, start handling the business of us. We celebrated us. We rejoiced in us. We poured into each other. We smiled, we laughed, we understood. We did that on Sunday. Then we went back to work on Monday. This work- like life – it don’t stop. But sometimes it feels GOOD to be around other women who get it and care enough to give it back.