If I could describe My Black Is Beautiful in a word, it would be confirmation.
While a lot of the initiatives, activations, and the ESSENCE Festival itself reflected and echoed a theme of validation, it felt even louder in the intimacy of a smaller room. On Friday, July 6, My Black Is Beautiful held an incredible intimate dinner where black women from different in the marketing and media world (as well as some men) came together and gathered at the Ace Hotel for a special kind of congregation. My Black Is Beautiful's hashtag of the moment was #BlackGirlsDo and God knows black girls certainly do, do.
Charreah Jackson, Gia Peppers, Lisa Nichols, Sylvia Obell, Necole Kane and Luvvie Ajayi attend the Black Is Beautiful Dinner
Within the confines of the beautifully decorated event space, I could feel confirmation more readily, I could see it more clearly, and so a lot of my quiet whispers to self about how fearless I was, how beautiful I was, how enough I was, was louder than I had ever heard it before.
It all began with powerhouse motivational speaker Lisa Nichols. What we thought was a dinner evolved into so much more as Lisa took the mic and filled the room like only she could. She took us away from the comfort of our soup, salad, and pinot grigio and asked that we become still so that we become present. "We have a tendency to be around each other without seeing each other," she said.
It was a heavy truth that a lot of us found ourselves nodding to despite how connected we tried to be. We were always somewhere else, in our thoughts, in our phones, in tomorrow, and next week. Closer than ever, yet so far away. And in a way, it was also how we've come to meet ourselves. We replace introspection with distraction with the quickness. So, she asked us to stop. And then she asked for us to stand.
She instructed for us each to find a stranger and partner up with this person that we didn't know. I parted from the creatives and writers I had become close to over the past day or so of our press junket and found a true stranger, one of the only guys seated in the room full of women, and unknowingly prepared for one of the most beautiful experiences of my life.
We looked each other in the eyes and recited a poem of affirmations that Lisa penned. And although we didn't know the words, it somehow permeated through every hard layer I built up in a world where I'm made to feel small, invisible, and silent.
Here was a perfect stranger telling me everything I didn't know I needed to hear until I did. It was both foreign and familiar. A confirmation that I didn't realize I sought outside of myself. And while he didn't know me, it felt gratifying to feel seen. To feel smart. To feel great. To feel beautiful. To feel like every decision I had made in my life up until that moment was the right decision, no matter how wrong, because ultimately, I was led here. Those four minutes were uncomfortable but so needed. Because while it is amazing to be able to affirm yourself, I've learned that it's okay to be validated for the special blessing that you are and the gifts that you bring to the world simply by existing.
As a woman who is built to endure, and programmed to have it all together, it can be exhausting not to appear to fumble, or to be weak. As black women that write for publications, we are very rare. As black women that write for black publications, it's even fewer. But as I looked around the room, I noted that there were so many of us. Instantly, I thought of how – in one form or another – these women have probably all been through the ringer, fighting for visibility in spaces where they are made to feel that they are too much and not enough at the same time. And bigger than that, I know for black women, much of the fight is losing the battle but winning the war.
As black women, we are the key to so much of what is great about this life, but the power we have and the magic we unleash are very rarely seen, much less appreciated in a way that leaves us feeling vindicated for our worldly contributions. Be it entrepreneurship, political activism, education, humanitarianism, or even motherhood – who we are for others often comes at the expense of who we are for ourselves. We are community of women that house movers and shakers, and not just dreamers, but doers. "We do what we do in our own way and we do it unapologetically," Lisa continued. "I want to courage you, as we continue to do, we do us too."
"I'm honored to be able to hold this space, because I couldn't always stand up and be seen. I didn't always own the brilliance that was in me because my brilliance is unique, it didn't look like everyone else. My brilliance comes with being functionally dyslexic. My brilliance comes with getting a D- in speech. My brilliance comes with being on government assistance at one time. My brilliance comes from my son's father being in prison for 23 years and still there. My brilliance comes with a whole lot of salt and pepper and seasoning salt and cayenne pepper. It comes with a lot, but it doesn't change that it's brilliant."
While it begins and ends with us, it can be supported by people that look like us lifting us up and acting as gentle reminders to how dynamic, how magical, and how beautiful we are. Being surrounded by so many sisters that shared my melanin, my roots, my pain, and my triumph was a healing revelatory moment where I saw myself through learning how to better see them and embrace their brilliance and their light in all its uniqueness.
PS: The soulful sounds of Grammy-nominated singer Gallant, and an appearance by Queen Latifah was the icing on the proverbial cake to an evening honoring the acknowledgement of Queens.
Thank you for seeing me My Black Is Beautiful.