Our founder Precious J. Stroud started BlackFemaleProject because the need was clear; she knew that:
- Racism is the most impactful barrier to employment;
- Unwritten rules and cultural norms maintain an American underclass; and
- Accomplished Black women do not advance in professional settings at the same rate as their peers.
She also knew that she and her contemporaries use various strategies to thrive despite challenging situations, and that illuminating these and other tactics developed and passed along and inherited by resilient Black women would surely benefit the next generation of Black female professionals.
Now, two years later, with a workshop series and two rounds of story collection behind us, what more have we learned?
Our three powerful Experts-in-Residence, Baayan Bakari, Phyllis Bowie, and Charmaine McClarie, have shared content, guidance, and inspiration with us across four distinct days of programming. The themes in our contributors’ stories align strikingly to those elevated by our experts and unearthed through Precious’s own research over the past two years.
The most common theme to appear in stories to date is the looming illness of internalized oppression, which is the individual manifestation of systemic oppression. We’ve heard various ways Black women are impacted by systemic racism and the system of global white supremacy, and much of the damage is caused by a lack of access to truth about ourselves and our histories. This sentiment was embedded in Brother Baayan’s workshop on the Power of Cultural Identity; Baayan reminded us of our historical greatness with a focus on the often unexplored years of 1865-1964 when Black America thrived unquestionably. The illumination of this period serves as a counternarrative and potential remedy to the damaging self-hate sometimes inspired by the misconception that Black American history is singularly defined by slavery, which is a direct result of systemic oppression’s influence on the way information is suppressed.
A second frequent theme we’ve seen is the phenomenon of being the first or only Black person in certain spaces or to access a particular accomplishment. A story contributor recounted an experience she had in her workplace:
This micro example is one of any infinite number of similar stories Black people in America could share; Black women find themselves then further entangled in the web of sexism overlaid onto the racism they experience. In her workshop entitled Live Your Dream Life, fabulous lifestyle expert Phyllis Bowie blessed BlackFemaleProject participants with some tips on how to honor the self in the face of stress and oppression. The truth is that we are all the only one of US! And Phyllis emphasized the non-negotiable importance of prioritizing and celebrating one’s self; in the absence of this, she says, it becomes nearly impossible to keep other areas of life in order, especially considering some of the heightened barriers we can encounter as Black women. She led women to self-definition and self-discovery of the ingredients to a balanced life. Put self first and everything else will fall into place.
Rounding out the top three themes of our story collection thus far is that of systemic inequality and oppression. Executive Coach Charmaine McClarie engaged us in a series of strategy-based activities at her workshop entitled Successful, Savvy, and Strategic: You! Charmaine’s outlook is grounded in the perspective that, “The world is an oppressive place. Period.” Because of this, she does not operate through a lens of oppression; she acknowledges the existence of oppression, encourages her audience to be active in pushing back against it, and arms people with strategies for self-advocacy. One of the most powerful and important tools Charmaine emphasizes is voice and a number of activities empowered us to leverage our words to our advantage. For example, we looked at the power of word choice, and how just one “little” word can have big impact on how we are perceived, considering words like “passionate” and “emotional,” particularly in the context of Black female identity.
Since we understand systemic inequality, isolation, and internalized oppression all to be major drivers of the challenges Black women experience in their workplaces, the appearance of these patterns further affirms the clear need for BlackFemaleProject, and further provides powerful anecdotal evidence of the urgent need to tackle these issues at their roots, if we are truly a nation interested in liberty and justice for all.
Keep your eyes out for our first story release later this month! We’ll follow this up by releasing subsequent stories over the next year. Full stories will be available for purchase at www.BlackFemaleProject.org. If you are interested in partnering to initiate a conversation between BlackFemaleProject and Black women in your specific industry, please contact us! See this blog entry about the event we co-hosted with Black Teacher Project as an example.
This post was researched and written by blog contributor Dana E. Fitchett. Dana lives in the San Francisco Bay Area where she choreographs, dances, doodles and writes. A multi-&inter-disciplinary artist, MFA candidate, space giver and nature lover.