In December, all I knew of HERstory in Black is that it was an idea. Emily Mills, CEO of How She Hustles had decided to step out on faith and share her vision: she wanted to create a digital photo series featuring 150 Canadian Black Women.
Along the way, Emily asked the women of How She Hustles for help. I wasn’t sure of how I could be of service, but I knew one thing: I could write. Currently I live outside of the GTA, and my mobility is somewhat limited. But that little voice inside told me to volunteer anyways. Surely I could do something in spite of my location.
A couple of weeks ago, Emily got in touch with me. Oh, how her project had grown. HERstory in Black now had a home in the form of a microsite on CBC Toronto’s web page. There would be an event in its honour on the 27th of February. Thanks to this new development, she didn’t need me to write about the women included in HERstory. But would I be able to showcase the photographers who made the magic happen?
I nearly fell over.
The Saturday after Emily and I chatted, I spent the afternoon with my girlfriends, Krista and Celeste. I told them all about HERstory in Black, including its celebration.
“You have to go!” Celeste and Krista insisted.
I looked at them as though they were made of cheese. I was already stunned by the thought of writing something about such an important project. I couldn’t imagine showing up at an event in its honour.
In the days after I published my post, Ms. Mills and I messaged each other. She asked if I was sure I couldn’t make it out to the CBC for HERstory in Black. Again, I was taken aback. My brain had been in such a blur since writing about Leilah Dhoré and Ebti Nabag, the idea of actually appearing on Monday seemed like too much of a good thing. Plus, there were logistics. Currently I need a car of my own and a new job. I’m used to not making it out to see people.
How would I get there? The next thing I knew, I was thinking of my friend Celeste. Since I didn’t have wheels, she’d offered to take me. I wondered if she could she be my plus one. Apparently God had the same idea because she won tickets to attend.
She was able to bless her friend Janice with her extra ticket. We got together and along with Marla Brown (one of HERstory’s 150 women) we hit the road.
We arrived at the CBC building around 5:30. The celebration of HERstory in Black was set to begin at 6.
In her latest edition of Facebook Live, Emily Mils mentioned something that I had noticed. On Monday evening, I saw some male musicians and production staff. Yet both behind and in front of the cameras, HERstory in Black was clearly women-driven. How many organizations make a point of hiring us to support an event at every level where we are set to be featured as speakers or performers? Kudos to Emily Mills and the CBC for their vision.
Among other special appearances, D’bi Young Anitafrika performed a poem called “Black Woman”.
Is it any wonder that in two Instagram posts, I said that she “spoke to my soul”? This clip offers viewers a taste of an incredible piece of art. D’bi is a powerful writer. Her words meant so much to me—to all of us. I can’t even begin to explain their impact.
Jully Black performed various songs, including “Glass Ceiling”. I’d never seen her live before. On Monday, she brought her mother on stage with her.
That night, I met people that—until then—I had only seen online. I’m talking about women like Tanya Hayles, Léonicka Valcius Nam Kiwanuka and Jam Gamble . I reconnected with Bee Quammie Tashauna Reid, and Chivon John . I even met Eugenia Duodo , the scientist in this segment that appeared on The National:
Now that it’s over, I don’t know if I can capture how deeply HERstory in Black touched me. But I’ll try.
I’ve already written about being one of very few people of colour in my town. I’m currently toying with the idea of moving to a more diverse city. I can only begin to express what HERstory in Black means to me—both the project, and its celebration.
I think of the ladies who came out with me on Monday: Celeste, Janice, and Marla. And I think of Celeste’s 3 daughters. When I was younger, I don’t remember having many home-grown role models to look up to—if any at all. Certainly, the media didn’t seem to want to highlight us.
Emily Mills, centre, along with some of the women who put HERstory together.
When you’re the only one of your background who’s around, or even one of a few, it can be very easy to doubt your own beauty. You may question your power and intelligence. I know Black people who would argue that we need to look for all of those things inside of ourselves. To them, I say yes. I believe in harnessing the spark of self-love, and nurturing it from within. But mirrors matter. The stories and images from HERstory point to possibilities that we otherwise might not have considered.
HERstory in Black has left me determined. I want the feeling that I have from my attending Monday night’s celebration, and writing about its photographers, to never end. I need to find a way to celebrate and share Black Girl Magic, not just during Black History Month, but all year long.
Black women are accomplished. People talk about adding one or two of us to their groups in an attempt to display diversity. Yet I wonder if they understand how truly diverse we are as a whole.
HERstory in Black offers people a glimpse of the wonder of us. And for that I will be forever thankful.
For more information on some of the women involved in this incredible night, check the links below.
Emily Mills – CEO of How She Hustles, Founder of HERstory in Black, Senior Communications Officer at the CBC
Tanya Hayles – Chief Creative Officer, Hayles Creative Elements
Michelle Berry – Founder, Shelly’s Catering
Amanda Parris – Educator and CBC Personality
Tashauna Reid – CBC News Reporter
Jully Black – Recording Artist & Speaker, Canada’s Queen of R&B