While today’s norm for communicating may boil down to 140 characters and a constellation of emojis, black women around the world have answered a North Carolina-based collective’s call to take up their pens.
This Fall, the #DearBlackGirl campaign invites black women ages 18 and up to write a letter in traditional “Dear You, Sincerely Me” fashion to a young black girl.
The campaign was created and launched by The Beautiful Project, an organization based in Durham, North Carolina that aims to confront and investigate definitions of beauty. Founded in 2004, the collective employs photography and reflective workshops to celebrate black girl beauty and magic from an intergenerational approach. #DearBlackGirl was created in the spirit of this mission to connect young black girls with black women.
“What #DearBlackGirl aims to do is create a conversation,” Erin Stephens, health and wellness coordinator for The Beautiful Project, told NBCBLK. “A big desire for me is that people who encounter this project share love and feel that love and feel supported by and encouraged by that love,” she added.
The campaign was the brainchild of Stephens, who said she was inspired by a book entitled Letters to a Young Activist.
#DearBlackGirl is not only a message, but also a movement by black women for black girls.
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Jamaica Gilmer, founder and co-director for The Beautiful Project, said writing these letters can bring out emotional responses because navigating black girlhood is not easy, but what emerges from them is a community of strong and supportive black women voices.
“It’s a very emotional process,” Gilmer said, “where the women who participate want to do their due diligence in giving what they can for the sake of black girls experiencing black girlhood and moving toward black womanhood, with the understanding that that thing is heavy, that thing is precarious, but we will be here for you.”
The campaign went through a year of planning and will have several phases. Last fall, the collective launched a pilot-version of this project by asking a few women in their community to submit letters.
The campaign just completed its first phase in the national campaign, the call for letter submissions. The deadline is currently closed for submitting letters, but will be reopened at a later date. As of Oct. 14, The Beautiful Project will be releasing one letter a week.
“Our hope is that people will be able to slowly take in what black women around the world have to say to black girls,” Gilmer said.
The next phase will be reviewing the letters, looking for patterns and trends. Stephens, who will be spearheading the review, said the analysis of the letters will be qualitative and undergo an organic process.
Stephens told NBCBLK that some of her initial questions include: “What emerges naturally? What are some of the repeated phrases? What are some of the common topics? Who is the black girl who is revealed in these letters?”
The letters do not become static once they are submitted. In fact, the letters of the #DearBlackGirl campaign will become part of a larger national traveling exhibit which will cover all of The Beautiful Project's work from the last decade.
Gilmer said they plan to raise funds next year for the exhibit’s expected launch in 2017.
As the collective begins to review the letters they received, they said the empowering message black women have for girls is one that is universal for black girlhood and womanhood.
“Black women stood up and said, ‘I will take up my pen. I can take up my pen. I took up my pen for a black girl,’’ Gilmer said. “Instinctively, if you’re taking up a pen for a black girl, you’re taking up your pen for a black woman too.”
As for Gilmer, her personal letter to a black girl would say: “black girl, we can do this. This is challenging, oh we can do this and I will be there and others will be there.”
For Stephens, her letter would include an instruction: “Find those things that you carry that bring you strength, that bring you life, that remind you you’re loved because on this journey, you’re going to need those things. They’re going to give you strength and they’re part of you.”