“I’m speaking now!” You’ve been there. You’ve said it or wanted to. You’ve been seated at a table where everyone but you is being heard and acknowledged. When you begin to speak, someone starts talking over you. You consider speaking louder. You hesitate because you don’t want to be accused of being angry. But you are.
Well, Sisters, we finally have the floor. People of all colors are joining us in saying that Black Lives Matter. Here’s what Vice President Kamala Harris said: “You’re going to walk into many rooms… where you may be the only one who looks like you… We are all in that room with you applauding you on… So you use that voice and be strong.”
My new Chicken Soup for the Soul book does just that. This book brings together 112 Black women, including me. We share our truth with each other and the world within a collection of 101 first-person narratives and twelve powerful poems separated into eleven chapters with themes about what matters to us. Accompanying and amplifying each story is a contemporary or historical quotation by a Black Woman.
Our Voices, Our Gift
I opened my new book with a poem by Ellen Pinnock called “The Gift.” Here’s how it begins:
My gift is my voice
My voice is a gift
It strengthens and encourages
Has the power to uplift
For so long it was stifled
Turned down and smothered
Muted and disregarded
Diminished and covered
Black women haven’t been silent until now. We’ve had a long history of speaking truth to power. But we’ve also endured a very long history that devalues our opinions, maligns our point of view, and assaults our dignity daily. Dignity involves proudly being ourselves, whether that means wearing hairstyles that are uniquely ours, standing toe to toe with those in authority, or showing the world what it means to be a strong, resilient Black woman.
Beautiful Brown Girls
How heartbreaking is it when you see a dark-skinned girl who feels “less than” because she’s dark? Aerial Perkins-Good wrote about this in “Pretty Brown Girl.” There she was, a schoolgirl, hearing phrases like “you’re pretty for a dark skin girl,” “if only you were two shades lighter,” and “the blacker the berry, the sweeter the juice.” She was a freshman in high school, and the only person who’d ever told her she was beautiful was her grandfather.
Ten years later, she saw Lupita Nyong’o on the cover of a magazine, and everything changed for her. She ran home and looked in the bathroom mirror at her hair, cut short and natural like Lupita’s, and never felt more beautiful.
I loved Rachel Perkins’ story about how she came to grips with the example she showed her four-year-old daughter. Rachel says, “In bits and pieces over my lifetime, I had been conditioned to associate the straightened version of my hair with professionalism and beauty. I frequently saw differences in the way that Black women were regarded depending on where they fell in a range of ‘More Black’ to ‘Less Black,’ and it seemed I had begun to act accordingly.”
In the chapter about sisters and friends, my story, “The Same Block,” explores how a veil of propriety can hide the sexual exploitation of a young person. Publishing this story has allowed me to give a posthumous voice to the childhood friend who had been robbed of her own.
We’re speaking now because why should we wait any longer? The stories in this collection cover a deep and wide swath of emotional truths. It is a book for your bedside table or the bus ride. In this Chicken Soup for the Soul volume, Black women are identifying and defining themselves. We are speaking now, and we are supporting each other, affirming each other’s self-worth, beauty, and unique power.
This feature was submitted by Breena Clarke
The coauthor of Chicken Soup for the Soul: I’m Speaking Now. She is also the author of three novels, most recently published, Angels Make Their Hope Here, set in an imagined mixed-race community in 19th century New Jersey. Breena Clarke’s debut novel, River, Cross My Heart, was an October 1999 Oprah Book Club selection and was named by Publisher’s Weekly as one of the seven essential books about Washington, D.C. She is co-founder of The Hobart Festival of Women Writers, an annual three-day celebration of the work of diverse women writers.
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