The No Fly on the WALL Academy opened its doors yet again this month and kicked off February by centring black women’s pain and vulnerability. One attendee, long-term supporter of No Fly on the WALL and founder or TRibe, Seyi Newell, shares her thoughts post event.
There’s something special that happens when black women gather. Something that’s hard to describe unless you’re fortunate enough to experience it. It’s not a thing or a feeling; it’s a tingling distinctive kind of vibration.
Sunday 7th February saw the gathering of a group of black women for No Fly on the Wall’s latest Fly Girlz Brunch, entitled ‘Black Women and Vulnerability’ – Martyrdom in the name of strength is suicide. What a title! I was a little taken aback initially, I think it frightened me a little bit but then that relief crept it. I had been waiting for a workshop exactly like this one and who better to deliver it than the No Fly on the Wall team, with Guilaine Kinouani, a trainee clinical therapist and equality consultant, as our facilitator.
I won’t give anything away as every word that was uttered in that room at Common House will stay in that room, but I can give you a little bit of insight into what that session did for me: I love nothing more about myself than being a Black woman. I love the fact that even though everything and everyone in the world tells us that we’re undesirable and angry, we rise; we get up out of bed every morning and we rise. But, and there is a but, we have a tonne of emotional baggage that needs unpacking. Sometimes that baggage gets a little too heavy and all of that rising gets more and more difficult.
So, let’s take the first part of that title ‘Black Women and Vulnerability.’ Anyone looking in from the outside might be a little confused. The words Black women and vulnerability don’t tend to go hand in hand. We’re known for our strength, our resilience, for being the back bone of our families. And therein lies the problem. To put it simply, that shit is exhausting. To consistently feel like you have to be the one that everyone else relies on, to be the one who can’t cry, to be the one that shouldn’t require any kind of help; to be the one that can’t feel is exhausting. But for many of us vulnerability is a no-no, if we’re out here being vulnerable who’ll get things done? And if at some point we do find ourselves being vulnerable it feels like a betrayal of sorts because that’s not what Black woman do, it’s not who we are. And leaving yourself vulnerable only leaves you open to more pain anyway. But sitting in a room with these women who came ready to be open and honest was something new for me. To participate in a real conversation that was void of judgement or condemnation was a rare experience and to sit and not only watch but let my sisters cry was actually an honour. I felt privileged to be in that space that felt safe enough for these women to begin to shed some of that load they’ve been carrying around.
Ok, so on to the second part of the title Martyrdom in the name of strength in suicide. This was something that I learned from my mother, I don’t think she taught it to me on purpose but after seeing her martyr herself time after time, especially for those who didn’t deserve that from her, I decided I wanted no parts in it. I think we’ve all learn this from the Black women in our lives whether it’s our mothers, grandmothers or aunties; they’re the ones always willing to go without for the sake of everyone else. I won’t say that I had some great epiphany but what this session did help me to do was to deal with that nagging guilt that I feel on the occasions in which I do put myself first.
The thing that gets reaffirmed for me every time I attend a No Fly on the WALL event is just how much we all have in common. It always strikes me that a Black woman sitting across the room from me whom I’ve never met before can sing my whole life back to me without even realising it. There is a common thread that runs through us all. But what I’m most grateful for is the genuine connections that I’m able to make with these women every month. Some will just be for that moment and others will last a lot longer but I’m better for knowing them because each time I get to know myself a little more.
The next Fly Girlz Brunch will take place in March as part of our Women’s Month series of events. The next No Fly on the WALL Academy workshop will take place on Saturday 27th February 2016 and will be led by Tobi Oredein, editor of Black Ballad. Sign up details will be out on Sunday (21st February 2016).