Recently in a conversation with some young women of color, I was informed of instances where they felt further marginalized in the workplace, so I told them to act up. *Pause* Before you begin to get in your feelings rooted in historically oppressive thoughts about appropriate behavior, journey with me. I’m a 28-year-old woman of color who works in the nonprofit field, for an organization rooted in social justice. I mentor, advise and coach other women of color who are from all walks of life. With a strong foundation of who I am, I will surely justify why I told these magnificent, engaging and trusting young women of color to act up.
In an hour long conversation, they both told me about how the intersections of their identities were not being taken into account by a white female supervisor. I’ve been there. I listened as these women spoke about their religion, mental health and what to me sounded like a toxic work environment, and I gave my honest opinion. ACT UP! One of the young ladies happens to be from the city. She mentioned not wanting to "bring the city out" in these interactions with her white female supervisor. I stopped, and I questioned, "why not"? She then paused to ponder on the question. Why is it that our feelings have to be suppressed so we aren't deemed an angry black woman?
As a proud North Philadelphia native, I’ve taken the city with me wherever I’ve gone and realistically it hasn’t failed me yet. Over the years, and having attended a PWI for college, I’ve been told that my city demeanor was always too much. Yes, I’m blunt, and I don’t like small talk, however I am also trustworthy, loyal and respectful. I sincerely engage with others and they have my support to the fullest. City girls can be multifaceted too.
I ensured this young lady that there is nothing wrong with the "city girl" coming out because at the end of the day it is rooted in wanting to be respected. Stay with me. I was NOT directly advising her to engage in any of the stereotypical outrage that you’re thinking of. If you're thinking that, just stop. I was merely telling her that there is nothing wrong with self-advocacy. Historically Black women have been casted and categorized as angry, loud and so forth. In reality, those feelings if expressed in those ways comes from thousands of years of being unheard. I can be loud if I want to.
In my professional opinion, I told these two promising Black woman that acting up is truly redefining what it means to be a Black woman who shows up authentic to themselves and can advocate for their respect. I often work with women of color who, specifically in the workplace and higher education have been taught that you must conform to a timid, and soft spoken way of advocating for yourself and that’s not always realistic. In fact, that may make some so uncomfortable that they choose silence as a means of coping.
As a woman of color, self-advocating may feel like a burden however it is necessary. You are deserving of respect and I urge women of color to understand that the idea of professionalism is rooted in oppression therefore how you choose to show up to advocate for yourself may not align with societal norms and that is OK. In my true North Philly fashion, that translates to acting up, and disrupting the systems that are set against you. The young women I spoke to recently helped me to see that I need to follow my own words more closely and while I know they left the conversation inspired, I left feeling eager to get this message out to others:
To the young girls in the all-white high schools who feel unheard, act up.
To the young professionals who are entering the workforce and want to be heard, act up.
To the women of color who are constantly cheated of promotions and accolades, act up.
To the women of color who are constantly silenced, act up.
You are your strongest advocate, and you deserve respect.
A North Philadelphia native, Ms. Tamika Austin serves as the founder and CEO of Embracing You, LLC. With over 10 years of experience as an educator, Ms Austin takes an innovative approach to working with students and stakeholders. Her experiences include working with Education Works, Americorps, Montessori Genesis schools, and state and private colleges. She received her Bachelor of Arts in Interpersonal Communication Studies, and Master of Education in Counseling and College Student Affairs. Having presented at conferences, and audiences of over 500 participants, she possess the experience and training needed to thoroughly engage with others. As an advocate for college access for those of marginalized identities, Tamika provides consultations and assistance for college campuses and organization on how to best support these students.
FB: Tamika Austin
Sometimes you may have to take a moment or two to sit back, observe, evaluate and redirect yourself. When you really want something you have to put in the work and make things happen for yourself. Throughout my journey of restarting my blog I have learned I must be consistent and push myself to keep going.
When I moved to North Carolina in 2015 I had a game plan. I told myself moving to a new location will be rejuvenating and allow me to get back to writing more and re-branding myself. However, my idea of a fresh start didn’t take off as quickly as I hoped it would.
Upon my arrival I was focused on perfecting and developing myself for the job I moved to North Carolina for. I put all of my time and energy into developing myself into the leader I would love to have and who my staff wanted to have.Therefore, my game plans were paused so I could focus on my current situation in order to learn how to balance it with the things I wanted to do. To gain a true restart on my blogging I wrote down 6 things that would help me birth my ideas.
1. Less Talk More Action!
Revamping my brand and blog was not easy. It took several long talks with my friends and line sisters to make things happen. It got to the point where I realized I was making a lot of noise but not making any progress. Meaning, I was talking about the things I wanted to do but was not making any movement. Therefore, I flipped things around and started planning the revamp of my blog. It took a lot of scratch paper of planning and thinking about my audience, topics, things I enjoy writing about and the things I am knowledgeable on. I wanted the content I was putting out to my audience to be valuable, positive and uplifting.
2. Gain Knowledge
Becoming knowledgeable in the area you are pursuing is the key to enhancement. I wanted to gain knowledge on content development so I did my research on different seminars and online classes for content development. I found several courses that lead to certification in my area of interest. I finally found a program through Cornell University that I was amazed with however, the amount of the course was out of my budget. Since I didn’t have the money for the course up front I began to look into the free route which lead me to Hubspot Academy’s free online courses for content development and marketing. I took the classes to learn how to improve the content of my blog and to reach an audience of readers who was not already following my blog.
3. Believe In MySelf
Throughout my revamping I had to learn to be my biggest cheerleader and motivator. There were times when I got into my head and asked myself questions like “What if no one reads my content? What if I offend someone? What if I am not good enough? What if people laugh? Or, what if my readers trash my work?” Those questions made me move slow in the process. However, one of my friends at the time was consistent with asking me every time we talked when was the last time I wrote something; I would always use my tiredness as an excuse for not writing. However, the truth was, I was writing but there were several things in my draft box not posted because I worried if my work was good enough to share with others. One day I was staring up at my quote wall in my apartment and my eyes landed on the quote, “ If your dreams don’t scare you, they are not big enough.” From that moment I started editing and posting everything in my draft box. Come to find out the articles I worried about the most were the ones I received the most feedback on.
4. Write and Read Everyday
I pushed myself to write everyday to get my creative juices flowing even if I only wrote about the things I did throughout the day. When it comes to reading, I am a firm believer that reading helps to stimulate the mind. I use to be an avid reader but during college somewhere between studying for exams and writing 2-3 papers a week reading for fun was nowhere in my thought process. In order to increase the amount of books I read I signed up for a library card in my new area of residence. I even search for relatable articles online through LinkedIn and several other platforms.
5. Stimulate My Desires
I work a lot and sometimes I forget to play so, I started to make the attempt to do things I enjoy. One of the main things that really fuels and stimulates my life is travel. Traveling is rejuvenating and opens the mind to new things. Every since the decision was made to travel more I have traveled to several places to my own surprise: Montego Bay, Jamaica, Cancun,Mexico, Los Angeles, CA, Asheville, NC, New Orleans, LA, and the list goes on. I want to share my experiences with my audience so I began to plan more adventures locally and internationally.
I have been working with people for years however, I still find it hard to network at times. In order to make connections with other bloggers, influencers and entrepreneurs I joined several networking groups and attended a few conferences which allowed me to unleash my skills. Most of the networking groups are online but a few of them meet up once a month. Making connections with go-getters and bouncing ideas off of like minded creators is such an amazing feeling. Two of the first online networking platforms is Muses and Black Bloggers United which really helped me to communicate and collaborate.
Restarting and re-branding is not easy. There are so many things to add into the equation such as figuring out who you want your audience to be, marketing, content development, ROI and etc. However, I personally found out when it comes to restarting and really revamping anything putting in the work and having consistency is the key. You have to be dedicated and really want whatever you’re going after.
Qualatrice is a travel and lifestyle blogger. She is originally from South Carolina but resides in North Carolina where she works full time in retail management. She spends majority of her free time traveling, blogging and hanging out with her friends & family.
Her favorite place is the beach and she dances when no one is looking!
Facebook: I Journi
Website: I journi Blog
By: Nidja Muldrow, a SHE Team ExKlusive
As I was taking my first celebratory walk across the auditorium stage as a newly crowned queen of one of the most prestigious Greek Lettered Fraternities at my university, I was confident in my future. Ironically enough, my platform was entitled “Getcha Mind Right” and was focused on spreading awareness on mental health in the millennial African-American. Little did I know, I would soon be a walking example for why spreading awareness and developing resources that promote mental wellness was so necessary.
Since I entered college, I was alone. Yes, I had friends and was fairly well-known and liked on campus. I even embarked on what would become a long-term relationship. I was almost over-involved on my campus and often found myself mentoring other students. Even though, I was shy, I purposely put myself in the spotlight on to push myself out of my comfort zone, and I soon became known for participating in pageants and performing spoken word. I even joined a sorority. From the outside looking in, I was thriving. Still, I was alone.
Though the fruit which would eventually rot into my depression took a long while to appear, the seeds were being planted and taking root even before I was preparing for my pageant, so diligently planning out exactly how I would bring attention to my chosen cause. I didn’t have my mom a step away anymore to talk about my fears and pains or to calm me when my hypersensitivity reared her head, and I felt weak being vulnerable with my friends. So I wasn’t. I took it all alone; every bad grade, harsh word from a teacher, challenge with a mentee, issue in my relationship, problem with friends. All normal things every student goes through, right? Except I wasn’t dealing with any of it. I simply added another activity; busied myself with something “more important”. I didn’t have time to take care of MYSELF! I could wait, I thought.
I never did fulfill my queenly duties. I had to ask my fellow queen to step up and attend a follow-up pageant in my place. I missed events first. Soon, I was missing class, missing assignments. I was fired from my job after continuously showing up late. Everything was catching up to me, but I still “didn’t have time” because now I was focused on proving that I was okay; on getting back to the “old Nidja”. “As soon as I fix this problem, I will be okay,” I thought. I wasn’t okay though. On the first night of my university’s homecoming, I got all dolled up for the concert being held. I rode to the gym with my friends seemingly happy, until we got there. I was putting on my shoes while my friends, excited to see the rapper performing, went ahead leaving me alone. In that moment, right then, I broke. I stayed in the car all night wallowing. Listening to my own mind telling me that I didn’t matter, that no one cared. I never went inside. When the concert had ended and my friends came back, I told them that I had fallen asleep and was ready to go home. That night, alone in my bathroom, I suffered my first of what would be many panic attacks and cut myself for the first time. This routine continued and worsened for a full year as everything around me suffered.
The light that FINALLY woke me up was a conversation. After an especially destructive episode, I found myself speaking to my friend’s mother. I expressed myself to her. I told how I wanted to die but that I was terrified of dying. I told her of my pains and fears and she asked simply “What are you doing to feed your soul? What are you doing to take care of you?” I had no answer. I realized that my fearful obsession with death came because I wasn’t living. I wasn’t feeding the parts of me that will never die. I was making earthly duties more important than my soul/spirit duties. I was making time for everything temporary and no time for me! From then on, I resolved to try. To try to do something to care for myself and feed the parts of me that were most necessary. Though it’s been a very slow process with many black slides, I’m proud to say that every day is more fulfilling and joyful than the last.
A few months before my pageant, I was shocked with the knowledge that a close friend had been secretly battling Bipolar Depression. Selfishly, the first thing I thought to do was instigate an argument about why they hadn’t told me sooner; first, even. After them educating me, and encouraging me to do independent research into their condition, I wondered why on my college campus this knowledge wasn’t made readily available. I wondered how many like my friend had suffered silently before getting help or worse, never got the chance to. Thinking of that now leaves me both relieved that I wasn’t a part of the “never got a chance to”, yet terrified that I almost was.
While I am not still in the thick of my battle with Depression, I sometimes still feel shame about it. It hurts to know that this thing almost ruined my life; that it almost ended my life. It hurts me to tell my story (especially when I talk about self-harm) and see my family and friends’ hearts break as they blame and question themselves. Even still, with all the pain that my story may bring, I know that it also brings freedom and displays triumph. My most painful scar, the deepest cuts I ever inflicted on myself, serve as a stinging reminder to take care of the best parts of me first before trying to save the world. (Sorry in advance to everyone who reads this who I told that the scars on my thigh was the result of a burn.) I just hope that my story encourages everyone ,especially the person who feels constant pressure to be “happy” and “good”, to take care of themselves.
Women are badasses. Even though men are at the top of the food chain, because of patriarchy, we really run this shit and keep the world turning. My favorite women, of course, are black women; I am one, as is my mother, my closest friends, and most women I look up to. Black women have always been sprinkled with a little extra badass-ery but we prefer to call it #BlackGirlMagic. Our beautiful, wonderful, magical selves have been the backbone of our communities since forever! We care for our men and children. We take care of our parents or anyone else in need. We’re the shoulder to cry on, the listening ear, and we do it all with a smile on our face! As black women we sometimes forget to take care of ourselves when it comes to mental and physical health because we are too busy taking care of others. And that all ends today!
For as long as I can remember, whenever black women were to be praised (which is hardly ever *eye roll*) the adjective used most frequently to describe us was “strong.” Not chest press 250 pounds “strong” but more like possessing great fortitude. There’s a toughness about us that allows us to endure even in the most difficult of circumstances. Not only do we endure, but we’re expected to rise from the ashes unscathed and bring our communities out of the flames with us. We take on the pain and stress of everyone else and do it quietly but at what cost?
There’s a very famous quote in Zora Neale Hurston’s novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God from Nanny, the grandmother of the main character, where she explains how black women are consistently stepped on by society and their own men. She says:
"Honey, de white man is de ruler of everything as fur as Ah been able tuh find out. Maybe it’s some place way off in de ocean where de black man is in power, but we don’t know nothin’ but what we see. So de white man throw down de load and tell de nigger man tuh pick it up. He pick it up because he have to, but he don’t tote it. He hand it to his womenfolks. De nigger woman is de mule uh de world so fur as Ah can see."
From that time until this, nothing has changed for we are still the mules of the world. We have made ourselves responsible for the physical, mental, and emotional labor of the world. We fight both sexism and racism daily. Some of us even deal with colorism at the hands of our own people. We battle the ills of society all while trying to keep our personal lives intact and it is e x h a u s t i n g.
Listen, I love us for real (word to Mo’Nique) but my sisters, we’ve got to stop. For centuries our mothers, grandmothers, and great-grandmothers have been carrying the load and I’m here today to let you know it’s okay to put it down. We are not Superwoman. That’s not a role we have to play even if we were cast against our will. There is nothing wrong with being a strong woman but let it be because that’s what you want. There’s a difference in being strong because you need to be and being strong because you’re made to be.
I have spent 25 years of my life molding myself into this stereotype. I have worn it as a badge of honor. I learned from my mother that there’s no time for pity parties because life moves on and so should we. I cannot blame her because this is what we as black women of every generation have been taught. So, I’ve held things in. I haven’t cried. I’ve suffered. I haven’t taken the necessary time to process traumas and now all my chickens have come home to roost. I now find myself having to unlearn these unhealthy behaviors at 26-years-old. I’m learning the beauty in vulnerability. I’ve discarded my armor and I’ve laid my weapons down for the sake of saving myself for once.
I want to say to anyone who has taken their time to read this, it’s okay to save yourself. There’s nothing wrong with putting yourself first when it comes to your needs and your mental health. They say you can’t pour into anything or anyone if your cup is empty. You also can’t pour if your cup is cracked and beginning to leak. Before you crack and especially before you break, I encourage you to take off the cape, fold it, and store it away. We’ve all got to do a better job at healing ourselves and I declare that it starts right here today.
Take these words and be blessed, beloved.
Audreyonna Sequale is a 26-year-old who is living, learning, and documenting all the lessons in between. She began blogging in December 2017 in hopes that her experiences would resonate with others and encourage them to live their truths.
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