Last weekend, I had the pleasure of being invited to speak on a Black Blossoms panel alongside qualified counsellor, Lisa Bent about self-care at my former university, UAL (University of the Arts London). Black Blossoms is a platform, which aims to highlight the voices of black women by hosting regular topical events in which black women are the centre of the conversation. Radical Self-care Workshops at Black Blossoms ranged from Yoga, meditation and surviving patriarchy in the workplace.
Founded by Bee Tajudeen only last year, (along with the support of UAL, SUARTS and Shades of Noir) Bee was concerned with the lack of black women in academic spaces and wanted to create a safe space for black women to speak about the challenges they endure in the workplace, education system or just through everyday living.
Although university for me was an enriching experience, I won’t gloss over the fact that 20-year-old graduate me survived an excessive amount of burn-out periods and loss. One of my closest friends at university took his own life, Urban Outfitters minimum wage just wasn’t cutting it with East London rent and I only got my final major project brief a few weeks before the end of my last ever term at university. That is a lot to deal with for any young person, for anyone in fact. I still think I’ve knocked a few years off my life (and my two greys in the middle of my head are still a gentle reminder to take it easy sometimes).
One of my old counsellors spoke at the event, and it was such a pleasure to see she was now the head of Counselling and Chaplaincy at the university. When I first started seeing her at age 18, she was the only counsellor of colour in a university full of six colleges. It’s extremely refreshing to hear there are many new faces that fight against the norm.
In a workshop by NUS called #FeelingMyselfcare (I wish I coined that hashtag), we talked about the difference between self-love and self-care, discovering that you can’t have one without the other. We spoke about the importance of checking in with ourselves, it’s as simple as asking “Am I okay?”… “No?”… “Right, so I’ve identified this”, and making sure we remove ourselves from damaging environments.
I made sure I relayed the importance of having a supportive group of like-minded people you can speak to. Some of the gal-dem contributors have fast become some of my best friends, because we often have had similar lived experiences and will tackle issues in a similar way, or see a situation through the same lens of a young woman of colour. Inclusion is so important, and we discussed the importance of waiting for the perfect match. For example when looking for a counsellor, if you have a preference to speak to a person of colour or a fellow woman, there is no shame in that.
Bee has created both time and space for black women to come together and make a connection with a movement. It’s very “in the now”, it’s present. It’s a physical space of reclaiming these spaces that we are often uncomfortable in, or not even invited in to.
From being on the panel and also attending the workshops, I learnt that creating spaces like Black Blossoms is crucial in the mental wellbeing of black women. Instead of looking back and saying I wish there were spaces like this at UAL when I was studying there, moving forward, we must remember to check in with each other, and share our stories to uplift and inspire others.
All images were taken by Lara Cardoso.