Meaningful Living in the Hashtag Age

Eight writers from the Black Writers Workspace share what they’ve learned on their journey to publishing

A writer’s job is to challenge a reader’s imagination and draw them into a new and exciting world that inspires, entertains, engages, and informs. Writers are visionaries, adventurers, and innovators who dedicate their craft to composing unique and exciting experiences on paper.

As writers of color, our mission is heightened. We are not only responsible for engaging readers with dynamic stories and real-world lessons, but we are also responsible for honoring our heritage by weaving cultural experiences into the fabric of our work.

Reaching deep within my treasure chest of experiences after years of owning a public relations firm, authoring three books, and building digital media content for various platforms, I’ve discovered several vital lessons about the power of writing while Black. These lessons may be familiar to some, but for me, they are entrenched in my core beliefs and are essential to help build and sustain diverse writers who struggle to find their path in the publishing industry.

Below are 11 lessons written by seven fellow writers from the Black Writers Workspace and me. This list includes motivational, inspirational, and instructional lessons learned and concepts for writers, readers, and publishers:

Lessons Learned

· Black writers have a gift that empowers the world with beautiful stories entrenched in the Black experience. The Black experience is the American experience. Race does not determine patriotism. This country was built on the creativity and innovation of immigrants; without us, there is no American story. (Michelle D. Jackson)

· Black writers are changemakers. Activism starts with the written word, which evolves into the spoken word and is then translated into action. Movements are built when writers become the voice of the people. (Michelle D. Jackson)

· Storytelling is a talent that starts in the writer’s imagination and ends in the reader’s consciousness. A good writer keeps the reader in mind. Readers are smart. They know by how much time and detail we invest in our work to whether we are writing for ourselves or them. Work written for ourselves is driven by passion. Work written for the reader is driven by passion and professionalism. (Michelle D. Jackson)

· Black writers need community. The writing process can be lonely. Community is important for many reasons, including mental health and morale, but more importantly, we all need a network of support, resources, and connections to be successful. (Tee Price)

· Black writers must be committed to fixing each other’s crown when needed. We must learn to encourage each other when we’re wavering and share information and connections so we all can win. (Tee Price)

· The Black voice is worthy of being heard; there is power and healing in the pen. Writing is therapeutic. It is medicine for the soul. (Tunisia Nelson).

· Black writers should never let detractors steal their voice. There is always an audience for what Black writers want to share because every life experience matters. (Micki Berthelot Morency)

· It is a myth that Black people don’t like to read. We enjoy stories to which we can relate. (David Muse)

· Black writers must know they are enough! Accept that some people aren’t going to like what you write, but never work to be like other writers. (Renea Linsom)

· Black writers no longer have to wait or ask permission from publishing companies to recognize them as authors. The ability to self-publish empowers all writers to share their stories with the world. (Tanell Allen)

· Black writers should never give up. However, they must be smart when deciding who to trust and share their work with. (Gregorystone Vojislav)

There is so much to learn and share. This is just the start.

By Author Michelle D. Jackson

Fear is an emotion often associated with feelings of uncertainty, danger, shame, and rejection. It is a dark room where creatures wait to prey on me, a dangerous journey towards the unknown. But every emotion, good or bad, has its purpose, and fear is no different.

Where love brings me joy, warmth, and connection, fear drives me out of my comfort zone. It forces me to fight against my inherent nature to run away from what is unfamiliar. 

Fear is born out of change, and progress cannot exist if we do not accept change. Therefore, if we live trying to avoid fear, we ultimately limit our progress in life.

If fear is designed to hold me back, why did God give me the emotion of fear? And how do I manage my fears and reach my destiny in life?

I’ve asked myself these questions countless times when fear was not my friend when fear caused me to miss out on opportunities in life that God meant for me to experience. But now, after years of learning that every emotion carries good and bad energy, I look back and know that I was better equipped to accomplish my goals when I embraced my fears.

The three biggest goals accomplished in my life were done with love, fear, and change in the passenger’s seat. Below is what fear helped me achieve:

1) Open my life to others.

I am a closet introvert who refuses to hide. That means I love being alone but don’t choose to be alone. Most days, you find me in front of a television clicking back and forth between the news, Lifetime movies, true crime, and Family Feud. I enjoy the sound of my heartbeat in a quiet room and listening to the noise the keyboard makes when my fingertips tap against it. But my fear of true isolation forces me to live out loud. To fight against anything that prevents me from being who God said I am, “the light of the world (Matthew 5:14).” Despite my love of being alone, my life cannot be lived in isolation. Therefore, I live in the open. I write in the open. I love in the open because fear inspires me too.

2) Find true love.

As the story goes, true love is hard to find. This is not only factual, but it is humbling. When the greatest gift God gives us is hard to find, fear, and the anxiety and isolation it often creates, can kick in. Before I met my husband (over twenty years ago), I feared I would never find true love. I’d watched people struggle with fading, wavering, and conditional love, but true love was still a legend. Then I met my husband, a military officer who lived a life that was foreign to me. He was moving around every 3 to 4 years. From city to city. Military base to military base, and he wanted me to be a part of his life. Instead of doing what fear called me to do — stay within my comfort zone, say ‘no,’ remain in my hometown and continue pursuing my career; I pushed against this and instead used my fear of the unknown as my motivation. I decided to join him on his journey, to be his wing-man, his rib, his family. I found true love because my fears allowed me to.

3) Become a mom.

I never played with dolls. Honestly, I never liked them. As a young girl, I would rather play football with my cousins than play dress-up with my friends. So, when I reached my late twenties, and my girlfriends were becoming mothers, I didn’t know how to feel about it. By the time parenthood became an essential part of my dreams, I discovered I could not get pregnant. This sent my husband and me on an 11-year infertility journey with fear and uncertainty. Eleven years! But in the end, regardless of the tears and frustrations, I became a mom. Fear forced me to trust life’s process and gain the patience I needed to overcome longsuffering. It taught me to move in ways that celebrated wins before they became a reality. The day we adopted our son was the day we understood that even in the darkest hours, fear propels us towards our blessings.

Do it afraid. That’s the message. 

Fear should never stop you from moving forward; it should empower you. Let your fears be a beacon of light on your path; let them motivate you to live life out loud, seek greatness in every situation, and trust the process. Because what’s on the other side of fear is true love and achievement.

Burdened by contrasting views about beauty and likeability, too many of us (women) suffer from feelings of worthlessness.

Based on the world’s standards, we are expected to be authentically ourselves AND entirely acceptable to others. We are to live in virtue of man AND pleasing of God. We are to expect our beauty to be fleeting YET never rest on mediocrity. We are to seek perfection in everything we do YET know it is an unrealistic pursuit.

The bar is set too high. Perfection is a fantasy.

But for those of us determined to play the game and achieve our badge of excellence (at the detriment of our sanity), we are often forced to give up one key life-empowering attribute – self-love.

Self-love inspires true greatness. It is the confidence to be kind to ourselves even when the world is not. It allows us to love the parts of our mind, body, and spirit that are different and unappreciated by others. Self-love is knowing that we are strong, courageous, and fabulous even when no one else thinks so.  

When our self-love is depleted and destroyed, we cannot feel authentic, virtuous, or beautiful. We were never born to hate ourselves; self-hatred, or feelings of inadequacy, are the results of engaging with hypercritical people, seeking perfection, and setting standards of acceptability based on the world’s demands and not our own.

Negative feelings and unhealthy thoughts easily damage the road towards true self-wholeness, self-love, and self-respect. To maintain self-love, we must embrace feelings of worthiness daily by reaffirming that who we are, regardless of our physical beauty, weight, intellect, or economic status, is acceptable. We must release the burdens of perfectionism and celebrate everything that makes us unique and extraordinary.  

Therefore, regardless of the past, I have decided to reclaim my love for who I am and who God made me to be. So, today, I pledge to love myself unconditionally.

The person in the mirror versus the person in my heart

When I look through the distorted lens of an unbridled world, I see a broken vessel, an incomplete soul, and a queen with no crown. I worry about my looks when no one is complaining. I wonder if my femininity and blackness are good enough. I question my intellect and talents. I look for reasons to be ordinary when God made me extraordinary.

Over the years, I realized that my self-love and self-talk didn’t match how I felt on the inside. On the outside, I am an overachiever who struggles to be who God created me to be versus what the world expects of me. Yet, on the inside, there lies this fantastic person with no insecurities who is filled with power, fearlessness, and uncontrollable joy.

See, in my heart, I’m a writer wielding the pen like a samurai. Crafting works of art like glowing brown faces placing limestone at the foot of The Great Sphinx of Giza. Masterpieces churn from my soul like poetry dripping from Langston Hughes’ emancipated mind. I’m a great writer, by no measure set by man, only the heavens.

In my mind, I’m a beauty queen twirling towards the sky. My white chiffon dress is covered in diamonds, and my Jimmy Choo’s have wish-granting powers. When I click twice, a harem of handsome admirers rises to greet me. But when I click three times, the world becomes my playground. 

In my soul, I’m a warrior shuttered in the trenches, strapped head to toe with armored gear, preparing to protect what I love the most. I’m a female warrior with no fear of insult or failed expectation. I fight for what makes my soul stir and gives me peace that no man can control.

So, why doesn’t the greatness I feel in my heart, mind, and soul match my self-love and self-talk? 

Unlearning the misguided lessons of self-love

Humility teaches us to stay grounded and never brag. Self-respect leads us to behave in honor and dignity. Integrity encourages us to have strong moral principles. But why is self-love untaught or considered contrite and arrogant?

Why am I taught to love others but not to love myself? Why am I left to believe that what I see in the mirror cannot reflect what I feel inside? Why don’t we tell our little girls they are beautiful even if their looks don’t match what the media defines as beauty? Why can’t we stop comparing ourselves to other women and trust that there is enough acceptance for everyone? Why aren’t we taught to battle against the negative thoughts in our mind that leads us to hate ourselves?

Today I accept a new truth. For it is not arrogant to love oneself; it is magnificent. It is feeling the cool waters of the Nile River on my face. It is standing at the top of Mount Kilimanjaro and watching the world beneath me. It is all things good, kind, and wonderful. It is accepting that my looks don’t define my self-worth, and my accomplishments don’t determine my status in life.

I’m good just the way I am.

So, I pledge to love myself today and every day. I promise to live like the warrior nestled in my soul, the queen twirling in my mind, and the writer wielding greatness in my heart.  From this day forward, my self-love and self-talk will start with happiness and end with joy. I will live, love, and linger in my extraordinary self. I will bask in the greatness and beauty of God’s imagination. I will give back to the world more than it expects, and I will love myself while working to inspire others to do the same. Today is a BIG day!

A BLACK WRITERS WORKSPACE POETRY COLLABORATIVE

Prelude by Michelle D. Jackson

Located in New Birth Missionary Baptist Church (Birmingham, AL)

On Friday, January 28, 2022, my father died.

During his funeral, as I sat staring at his regal bronze casket covered with an American flag, I noticed a beautiful metal door in the church with a three-circle emblem representing the Holy Trinity. Mesmerized by its design, I began to wonder about the door of eternal life my father had now entered. This door represented the pathway from earth to heaven.

Somewhere in the heavenly clouds was my father, a man in his late eighties who survived poverty as a young boy and blatant racism in the south—a complicated man whose love shined through even in the harshest times. I did not always understand him, but I knew and loved his strength, courage, and unspoken belief in forgiveness.

The door that stood before me represented his path to a final resting place, a course we will all one day endure. It was this door that had the last word on his life. Yet, poetic in how its silence spoke to the numbness of my heart, I knew that once he walked through it, my father would receive his heavenly reward for a life well-lived. 

With the help of my friends on the Black Writers Workspace, we crafted separate parts of a story, my story, our story of grief, loss, and the journey from this world to eternal life. Through the beautiful and heartfelt poetic words of writers everywhere, they helped me share my pain, and I am forever grateful. Here’s our collaborative work:

THE DOOR

by The Black Writers Workspace

I.

Entering another day without you

Broken but strong

Your laughter a beautiful memory

Lasting a lifetime long

Remembering how you loved me

Rarely spoken but always felt

Remembering your dreams for me

Tackling the world as it’s dealt

My first Valentine

The man who loved me most

The warrior in my mind

when this life’s beyond reproach

The meals we shared

The smiles we gave

The slightest touch of your hand

Your love pierced my little girl heart

Your love is where I stand

You are, and will always be,

the fire in my belly

The fight in my step

The man who made me, me

The guy who accepted his missteps

A daddy indeed

A rebel

A soldier

A fearless heart

A powerhouse

A complicated soul

The door will never keep you

For your life is still ashore

But the door will let you rest

Share your greatness on high

Remind your earthly family of you

Propel us toward the sky

Sleep, daddy, sleep.

You deserve to rest

You’ll never be forgotten

Your soul is at its best

Michelle Jackson

II.

Entering another day without you,

Consumed with all I’ve lost.

You’ve always taught me to win,

Eventually, I will, but at what cost.

Nothing can prepare us for the sea,

After we pass the door of no return.

Without your covering, who will we be,

Who knows, yet we must learn.

A day at a time is what they say,

When I don’t know what day it is.

With doors closing all around me,

I feel as helpless as a lost little kid.

Even when that door slammed shut,

Inside of me, I still felt your light.

I’ll try to breathe deep to find small bits of peace,

remembering you, day by day & night by night.

Barnard Sims

III.

On solid foundation

framed in love

hung in place delicately hinged

like the wings of a dove

You’ve Always been wide open to me

But today you are sealed tight

And nothing seems right

As I stand here on the threshold of your memory

Thoughts race

My heart flutters to keep pace

Anticipating the turn of the knob

Unopened yet somehow

“un-closed”

In the middle of the end

My silent tears give away to sobs

Lawanda Baker


IV.

Thro’ it we into life are usher’d

Squalling and kicking lustily

Bringing joy to the hitherto bother’d

And thro’ the door out of life

We exit

Lying still and pale and rigidly

After our course of life is run

Leaving sadness and pain behind as we go

Never to return

David Donald

V.

This is the door of forevermore.

On the other side I’m expected to say good-bye to the first man who loved me.

I’m grateful he got to guide me through this crazy awesome journey.

When I leave the room and that door closes, I will not be the same.

I am not prepared for the heartache, the grief and pain.

So please remind me to think of the good and push away the bad.

Remind me of the times when I wasn’t so sad.

Show me a penny, a red robin or rainbow.

Remind me your energy will always flow.

This way I don’t have to say goodbye, instead I’m reminded

You are by my side.

Now, I can close the door to forevermore.

Gina Johnson

VI.

Some people look at a closed door as an end.

But the door doesn’t just close. It opens too.

On this side of the doorway, I saw you Daddy and knew

I would never see you in the form I was used to.

Laughing, telling jokes and being the life of the party.

But as you stood at the doorway, you knew once you crossed over,

you would have to make your presence known in other ways.

So now, I hear you in my sister’s laughter, I see you in my brother’s face

and I feel you every time I go home to visit family.

The doorway isn’t just the end, it’s a different beginning.

Angela Jackson Muhammad

VII.

Open. Open. Open. Please door just open
Let me have one last hug or one last glance
Just one small moment
Just one final chance.

I wasn’t ready for you not to be here
Even though I knew it was now your time
My mind says it’s going to be OK
But every part of me knows it’s lying

This door is the only thing between us now
Separating two hearts that should always be together
But as detached as I may feel right now
I know your love and memories shall last forever

I know this door is forever closed
No matter how much I cry
Life will be forever different without you
But with each day, I know I’ll get by

I will live life grateful for the time we did have
Never to forget your life, laughter, or love
Wait for me on the other side of that door
So when it opens, all I hear is, “Welcome”

Tamecka Knight

Every day brings a new opportunity to learn, love, and grow. Failing to take advantage of these opportunities will result in regrets. Therefore, I opt never to have regrets, but instead to be a student of life.

This week my life lessons came from four black writers who I respect — blessed with the opportunity of a lifetime to interview three of them during the BLK. INK virtual book fair hosted by the Black Writers Workspace, I learned several key life lessons from Kevin Powell, Ardain Isma, and Odessa Rose. Also, as I honored the life and legacy of the late author and activist bell hooks, I immersed myself in her words and took another life lesson with me that I want to share.

Lesson #1 — Books have POWER.

During my interview with Kevin Powell, author of 14 books, journalist, activist, and filmmaker, we engaged in an honest conversation about his autobiography “The Education of Kevin Powell: A Boy’s Journey into Manhood.”

Kevin’s book is his life story of surviving poverty and crime in the streets of New Jersey. It explores how he found his way into a world of activism and community building. It also covers the exciting role he played in the launch of hip hop music and his journey to becoming the man he, his mother, and those he loved would respect. The book is honest and raw, and I connected with his story in ways that surprised me.

Although we grew up in different parts of the country, Kevin and I are products of poor/working-class communities, hard-working and no-bullshit mothers, and a soul-stirring love of books and hip-hop music.

But with all our similarities, I left the interview learning the most simplistic lesson. Kevin reminded me that books have the power to change lives.

Books changed the trajectory of both of our lives by transforming our impoverished minds, bodies, and spirits. Books changed how we saw ourselves and our surroundings. They allowed us to dream and to expand our worldviews. They opened doors and connected us to braver possibilities.

For Kevin, books like “The Autobiography of Malcolm X” ushered in his love of activism. Because of his experiences, his writings and literary accomplishments secure his place in history as a modern-day griot, telling life stories during the rise of hip-hop and in the trenches of police brutality, racism, and sexism post-civil rights movement.

My time with him was short but meaningful. I am a better person because of our encounter, and now I’m convinced, more than ever, that black writers must keep writing.

Lesson #2 — The Black Experience IS the Human Experience.

My interview with writer, college professor, and Haitian historian Ardain Isma revigorated my interest in embracing the black experience from the African diaspora to now.

As we discussed Ardain’s journey from Haiti to America at the age of 17, he reveals the heartbreak he felt leaving his mother behind and his renewed focus on education and writing in his new homeland. As a result of his love of writing, Ardain penned two books seeded in his love of Haiti and his commitment to Black empowerment. He also hosts a YouTube interview series where authors have a platform to talk about their work, and he’s the Editor-In-Chief of CSMS magazine.

Ardain introduced me to ‘The Equality of the Human Races’ by Author Anténor Firmin, a pioneering work of early anthropology written in French by a Haitian who is one of anthropology’s first scholars of African descent. Firmin published the book in Paris in 1885, twenty years after the ‘Father of Racism,’ Count Arthur de Gobineau, published “The Inequality of Human Races.” De Gobineau’s racist tome was translated into several languages and influenced Nazi ideology. But, decades ahead of his time, Firmin’s work proved that the human races are equal.

I felt a sense of pride learning from Ardain, his love of Haiti, and his commitment to sharing the prolific life story of great minds like Firmin. Racism was purposely embedded into the foundation of nation-building. Books like De Gobineau’s helped infuse systemic discrimination and inequality in every facet of life. I left this conversation understanding that our country will never embrace unity and equality until we appreciate the black experience.

Lesson #3 — Write what you LOVE!

My final interview led me to embrace the work of a black, heterosexual, female writer who took a chance to write a fictional story about a black, gay, female character in a contemporary novel that became a featured movie.

Until our interview, I’d never met Odessa Rose, the author of “Water in a Broken Glass,” but I’d followed her work on social media. Nothing prepared me for her humble demeanor, love of words, and Baltimorean pride.

Odessa wrote “Water in a Broken Glass,” a novel about a sculptor who struggles with her sexuality and self-image. The storyline was conceived after Odessa’s chance encounter with a friend who was concerned about coming out to her for fear of how she would respond. Hopeful to help others in similar situations, Odessa’s story is a good lesson for people who are either dealing with coming out to friends and family or are having a hard time accepting the sexuality of someone they love.

Like so many writers, Odessa told the story that kept her up at night. She listened as the character developed within her spirit, and she let the story drive her to write a book that was so convincing that a filmmaker asked, and ultimately earned, the rights to turn it into a movie.

Our discussion clarified that if I’m going to be a writer, I must write! Sometimes the work will let me know it’s ready to be delivered to the world. Sometimes readers will beckon for my stories, and I must trust that the world is prepared for my greatness. Nevertheless, great writers WRITE! Odessa’s story proved this to me.

Check out “Water in a Broken Glass” on Amazon Prime or Apple TV.

Lesson #4 — Love is EVERYTHING!

This week we lost another great author, activist, and leader. bell hooks parted this life, but she did not part our hearts. Instead, she gave us the most exceptional understanding of love, forgiveness, and unity. Her life story embodies the lessons I hope to live forever. I embrace her greatness and pray it will sustain me for years to come:

The moment we choose to love we begin to move against domination, against oppression. The moment we choose to love we begin to move towards freedom, to act in ways that liberate ourselves and others.
— bell hooks, Outlaw Culture: Resisting Representations, 1994

To Kevin, Ardain, Odessa and bell hooks, thank you!

HERO IN YOU

Are you in need of a HERO? Are you waiting on a SUPERMAN or WONDER WOMAN to descend from the sky and protect you from a struggling world?

What if there are no heroes coming to your rescue? What if you have the STRENGTH and courage you need to change the world, and YOU were created to be the HERO of your own life?

Each one of us is blessed with the talent to build a world comprised of integrity and goodwill. But to do so, we must ACTIVATE our faith and move into our destiny.

In these unpredictable times, it’s important that we stop waiting for our heroes to rescue us and start LIVING like the responsibility is ours, and ours alone.

So, ask yourself: Am I up for the task? Am I warrior-ready? Can I be a hero in my community? Can I be a hero in my home? What will it take to change the world around me for the better?

If you possess the power to be a strong leader, change maker, founder, AUTHOR or advocate, start TODAY! Put on your cape, strap on your armor and get ready to sacrifice your life for what is good and honorable.

Be your own HERO and watch your life soar!

~ Author MJ
Blog: http://www.1stmorningthoughts.com

We Will Vote!

Check out my latest poem, We Will Vote! I wrote this while I stood in line for over five hours to vote during the first day of early voting in Louisiana. There were hundreds of people standing with me. It was inspiring and well-worth the wait. #makeaplantovote #wewillvote

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. we heard you

U.S. Representative John Lewis we heard you

Reverend Dr. William Barber we heard you

First Lady Michelle Obama we heard you

Your voices sung like wind chimes on a still and lonely night

Chattered like the hate that rose against us

Stuttered like hymns hovering above the cotton fields

Your forceful words swung like tattered rope around a lynching tree

Tarnished leaves with blood and tears

Unscathed ground tested by hate and fear

You called us out of idealistic virtue

Where fairness thrived and no color dwelled over man like God

Where rights were assured, and voting was revered as an act of civility and pride

You rocked us from our comfy places to our rightful position

Your words carried us to the warring ground

Stirring us to stand guard over what is sacred to a blessed life

We heard the echo of your crying souls

Banished for its impassioned quest to seal our fate of liberty

We heed the call to move forward and stand firm

We replicate your solid demand to know who we are and why we fight without fault or fear

Martin, we heard you say, “Give us the ballot”

For in the belly of the ballot box are the gems of democracy this land stands for

We believed your conviction and live to make your dream our rallying cry

John, we heard your call to act

And now our commitment is to “get out there and push and pull until we redeem the soul of America”

Your words exemplified your greatness and a stern eye of righteousness

You were a force to be reckoned with

Reverend Barber, we heard your demands

A push for unity from a true Conductor of Peace

“Forward together” we march. “Not one step back!”

Your words embody our fight to fill the coffers of those in need

Despite what the wealthy claim is there’s

It is why we move in unison, hand-in-hand towards equality and justice

Michelle, we heard you sing proud and loud

Words now imprinted on our minds, “Vote like our lives depend on it!”

You spoke to a generation of youth

Pushing for the seeds of justice to be our proudest possession

Teaching grace to angels with warring souls who needed you most

And now we stand, side-by-side, soul-by-soul waiting for our turn to strike a fatal blow to what threatens to make our freedoms no more

We heard you and we accept this challenge

We embrace the dream you set forth into the wind, the purpose of your mission and the thunder behind your words

You stood for us; we stand strong with you

We will vote like the day has no promise of a dawning sun

Like the rights of all men have slung stars into the sky and created the bond that holds our universe together

We will vote because those who died in the blistering cotton fields could not

We will vote because our patient soldiers for peace marched, sat and endured jail to see us through

We will vote like our lives are tied to every ballot, even when our rights are being auctioned to the lowest bidder

We will vote because your words are burning in our soul and drumming songs of victory awakening the better angel in us all

We heard you. NOW, WE WILL VOTE!

By Michelle D. Jackson

When Michelle Britto, a black writer from New York, went online to search for examples of a brown-skinned model to show the tone and texture of African American skin complexions to her children’s book illustrator, she discovered something that caught her attention.

Just as she struck the Google image search icon, a skin color index with illustrations of varying skin tones appeared on her computer screen. It did not take long for Britto to realize that the easily found Google image was more than a chance discovery; it was the encouragement she needed to address the negative stereotypes and systemic colorism that has hindered women of color for centuries.

The skin color index, which showed one image of a woman in six different skin tones ranging from light (or Caucasian) to dark (or African/black), described the lighter skin tone as “normal.”

This presumption is not uncommon to black women who have existed in a society that subliminally implies that a woman’s beauty and desirability is based on the color of her skin, the hue of her eyes and the length and texture of her hair. Societal norms are filled with images of white women as examples of true beauty and black women, particularly those with darker skin, are seen as exemplars of the aesthetically unattractive.

Historically, black women were represented as maids or ‘mammies’ — black maid-servants — during slavery who looked and acted in ways to satisfy their male-masters while deemphasizing their beauty to appease white female slave masters and make them feel beautiful in their presence. Even as more women of color emerge as dominant figures in business, movies, music, and sports, there remains an unconscionable belief that women of color are less appealing in comparison to women with lighter skin.

Britto, with a new-found urgency to correct the unfair and stereotypical skin color index and redefine what “normal” means, decided to enlist a few of her writing colleagues to help demystify the beauty all women of color embody. They call their work, The Skin I’m In: A black women writer’s protest to the negative images of dark skin and the cultural upliftment of all women of color. This work is a living document to be continued by women writers with strong voices and an unwavering belief that skin is beautiful no matter the color, tone, or texture.

The Skin I’m In by Women Writers of Color

Almond Toasted by Michelle R. Britto

Almond toasted brown is my skin tone by birth.

When I look in the mirror there is nothing that makes me irk.

In the summer is when my DNA is put through an undeniable test.

It’s when my skin is at its absolute best.

It turns copper once the sun sets in.

The skin I’m in reminds me that my Afro-Caribbean is not just a part of my past, but a part of my now.

The sun treasures my skin.

It’s so “NORMAL” the way it colors in.

No sunscreen of 101.

My skin embraces the light because we are one.

Shea butter nourishes my skin,

And I can feel a glow from within.

My skin is EVERYTHING to me.

It tells the story of plantations and cotton fields.

My light brown skin was considered a plus,

In a house full of sin my ancestors could not fuss.

Had I’d been there; I’d say leave me to the corn rows and cotton fields.

So much pride, no longer in those years.

Melanin is beauty, yet it’s what many fears.

Thomas Jefferson had his share of my skin tones.

The number of his kin is still unknown.

To call my skin not “NORMAL” is the biggest mockery of all.

Today I celebrate my skin as the diaspora of a history that doesn’t break me.

Imagine Google in 2020 trying to berate me.

The day I googled skin tones and a white image appeared, it was called “NORMAL,” I see no “NORMAL” here.

Caramel Brown by Michelle D. Jackson

My complexion is not what the world would call “NORMAL.” Normal is too safe for the life I was made for. It is a blank canvas with no brilliancy or light; it is a monochrome palette, with no creativity or imagination. Normal is a predictable stream of consciousness that lacks thrill and luster. No! I am not NORMAL — God did not make me that way. Instead, He broke the mold when He birthed me in the swell of an Alabama sun. Blessed me in the belly of a light skin queen and in the loins of a russet-skinned king, both only a few generations removed from the cotton fields.

God crafted a beauty only majesties could comprehend. He spared no grace, mercy, miracles, or mystery when he buried my warring soul in copper-tone mink and covered my body in buttery sweet caramel brown skin. I do not care to be “normal” or to fulfill an earthly man’s desire. My skin is a reminder of the strength that flows in my bloodline. It screams to the world what my brave ancestors whispered daily to the wind — I am something wonderful. I am something real. I am something desired. My power lies in the beautiful brown skin I’m in.

Espresso Almond Butter by Jacquelyn Randle

Complex yet beautiful none the less. A shade that changes throughout the seasons glowing whenever the sun hits it. An illuminating radiance, reminiscent of a mother’s pregnancy glow. A shade often overlooked in the debate of dark skin versus light skin in my youth; outside confusion saying, “you’re so bright” while others saying the classic “you’re getting dark.” Stuck in the middle of the color spectrum. Memories of being young and arguing that “I’M BROWN, NOT BLACK,” not realizing BLACK IS BEAUTIFUL NO MATTER THE SHADE. Stuck in the middle admiring the blue-black shades fresh from The Motherland or the rare red hair and freckles the lighter end sometimes gained from their DNA. Espresso almond butter is me. My children offshoots of its variance, soaking in the knowledge that our skin is not only unique but the curls on our heads that shrink then extend down pass our backs. Picking up the quick wit to answer “melanin,” when asked what are we mixed with or the knowledge to know that Crayola has yet to perfect our shade of Espresso Almond Butter but we can mix up a few and get it just right.

Espresso Brown Skin by Tam Yvonne

Silky smooth, so creamy, a shiny skin tone that overflows with warmth and luminosity effortlessly… dark in color, chocolate like a Hershey bar, who be that woman? That woman be ME! But, “ME” is not considered “NORMAL” in a world that tells you light is beautiful and publicly demonize anything dark in color. Even in my black community we have been brain washed, courtesy of the Willie Lynch Letter 1712, where this British slave owner taught his methods to other slave owners on how to control your black slaves. Several methods were shared, but the one that has always stood out in my mind, ever since I read that letter in my pre-teen years was the way he suggested using dark skin slaves vs. light skin slaves, and the light skin slaves vs. the dark skin slaves; and this method was evident back in 1712 with the dark slaves in the fields; and the light slaves in the house pampering babies and being play mates to the masters kids. Fast forward 2020; and I am still hearing from people in my own race, “you are beautiful for a dark skin woman.” Wow!! This is 2020, right? Why can’t I just be a beautiful woman? It still saddens me at times to see my own race of people; and the world in which we live not consider dark girls and dark women beautiful, dark skin has never been and still is not considered good enough. But, I am here to tell you, I have ALWAYS been PROUD and always will be of my skin complexion and how beautiful we are as a people in our various shades of brown that comes with a diverse and radiant nature that glows and is often times highly sought after from those with less melanin in their skin. GOD did a good thing when HE put me in the skin, I am in.

Dark Chocolate by Tendai Magidi

Fearfully and wonderfully made.

Unworthy of unprovoked attacks.

I hold an unquestioned right to be recognized as a respectable individual.

This black skin I`m in,

A distinguishing feature that facilitates my identification.

A part of me that never fades with age.

Resembles the uniqueness of my racial origins.

In this dark skin I am,

Which I wear proud and unshaken by racist taunts,

I bear a striking resemblance of true beauty.

In a storm of protest, I don’t wish to scramble for superiority but,

I raise a voice against the wrong and unfair resent of my black skin,

To solemnly express my concern for racial equality,

Tolerance and for all races to build unity

And maintain racial relations.

Colour difference does not make us different species.

Let not our difference in colour turn rejection into a norm.

Because of my black skin,

Turn me not into a victim of racial discrimination,

Shunned by society.

I`m not an epitome of misfortune.

My skin does not make me hideous.

Rather my black skin is my pride,

The reflection of my beauty.

I reflect no regrets of the colour I wear,

My black skin, My pride.

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I am protected.

I am protected.

Secured.

Armored.

Guarded.

God does not leave me alone or lonely.

God does not leave me unequipped or ill-prepared.

God protects me because I am His most precious possession.

The enemy must defeat Him FIRST before he can touch me.

I am protected.

Secured.

Armored.

Guarded.

I AM GOD’S CHILD.

By Michelle D. Jackson

God promised us many things.

A life of glory and merciful meaning.

Purpose, love, and righteousness.

Peace, grace, and selflessness.

He granted us abundance that far reached what we could embody. He blessed us with the power to rise above sickness, hurt, and melancholy.

He gave us his most precious thing, His love transcended in an earthly being.

He loved us so much He left to the world a priceless deed, the life of his son, His only seed.

And now, in the wake of what we can not control, God performs the most sacred role.

He does just what He said He would, He renews, restores, and protects the poor, humbled, and spiritually good.

Through the uncertainty of a sickness we struggle to cure, God resets the world, creating a new, blessed universe, holy and pure.

Our sinking earth ravaged by ego and greed, now has a fighting chance to succeed.

Starting with what He loves most, God fights to unify the family with His heavenly host.

Then seeking to end what is destroying our earth, He uses a virus to remind us of our godly worth.

Replenishing the sanctity of things we can not comprehend, God empowers our fears to bring us back to where He intend.

He reduces pollution while we debate climate change, using His strength to break us out of illogical mental chains.

Seeing to the elderly, who created the path for which we follow, God promotes them to a heavenly home, while our pride fall to an earthly bravado.

Those who die, die strong with fearless faith, as a reminder to the living that death brings God’s ultimate grace.

He has put in motion, The Reset.

A time of prayer, redemption, confession, and reflection.

A time to reconnect, reassess, and redress.

A time to rekindle, remember, and reminisce.

A time to learn to love again with complete fearlessness. A love that doesn’t require touch or feel or tenderness.

But one that consumes the heart and reverberates from six-feet apart.

What may appear final, is far from the end. Only God controls how this world will ascend.

No sickness, no greed, no leader-less land, will destroy what is safely secured in God’s hand.

So stay-in, stay strong, believe what God says is real, but never give up on His power to heal.

Embrace The Reset. You know in your heart it’s time to start again. To put what is important first and make God’s love and kindness transcend.

By Michelle D. Jackson

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