Maybe you’ve heard these statements at work:
“You oversold yourself during the interview.”
You’re not meeting expectations.”
“You go by that name at work?”
“You don’t know your place.”
Or my favorite: “You seem angry.”
I have heard them all, repeatedly. And for years I thought I was alone.
Three years ago, I got a wakeup call.
As my stress mounted, I developed migraines, a skin rash, and gained weight. I knew that stress causes autoimmune diseases in many Black women, a fate I began to fear. I tried everything: working harder, towing the political line, changing my name. Nothing worked.
But along the way, I began to find strength in discovering that the other Black women in my life were weathering the same challenges at work. And I vowed I would do everything I could to prepare the girls who are coming behind us.
In 2014, I started gathering examples of how structural racism and sexism play out in the workplace. I realized that by studying how Black women have survived in this post-affirmative action era, we can empower the next generation to thrive.
BlackFemaleProject was born.
Our first voices
In the early days of the project, I put out a call for written stories. I expected to gather a dozen or so, then self-publish the collection.
I knew there would be power in our stories. But I didn’t know just how much.
As the stories came in, it grew clear that our voices would not be contained in a small book. Ché Abram shared her story early on. “I didn’t even think I had a story to tell,” she says now. But Ché not only found power in her story, she found power in the BlackFemaleProject community, as our stories made their way off the page and into public dialogue.
“When we started our Conversation Series and hosted writers’ workshops, I didn’t realize it would open this many doors for Black women across all age groups and industries,” says Ché. “[Taking part in the BlackFemaleProject] has been the most life-changing thing I’ve done to date, as far as personal and professional goals.”
What began as an idea in Berkeley grew to take root across the Bay Area, then reached even further as we hosted events in New York and Washington, D.C. In this way our vision and ambition for the BlackFemaleProject expanded, story by story, to become a movement.
As we share our resilient and triumphant experiences in writing and in person, BlackFemaleProject allies are preparing girls and young women for the realities of the work world, giving them the tools and community to heal, learn, and lead.
To lift up our stories and reach as many Black women as possible, in 2018 we are launching a podcast series. (Ché, who is quoted above, can be heard in the first two episodes.) We are also launching a partnership with StoryCorps, which will literally take our stories on the road. Along the way, we will continue adding events that bring Black women together through intergenerational storytelling and community building.
At BlackFemaleProject, we believe in the power of storytelling to spur healing and growth. Resources and community can help us persevere; we need to hear from women who have walked in our shoes, a few or many steps ahead on the journey. I hope you will join the ranks of bold, beautiful, brave Black women sharing their stories.