Updated: Jan 4
[Image by ColorTherapy - Colored by S. Robinson]
“People of color (PoC) need their own spaces. Black people need their own spaces. We need places in which we can gather and be free from the mainstream stereotypes and marginalization that permeate every other societal space we occupy. We need spaces where we can be our authentic selves without white people’s judgment and insecurity muzzling that expression. We need spaces where we can simply be—where we can get off the treadmill of making white people comfortable and finally realize just how tired we are.”(1) - Kelsey Blackwell
As the founder of Black Women Widows Empowered (BWWE) nonprofit organization, as well as its private Facebook groups (that pledges to provide a safe space for widows of color), it's no secret that at times I'm reminded of the need for our private safe haven when questioned by other widows or mourners. Not to go into details about what is discussed, just know that the support provided from like-minded widows offers a grand relief to know that we are not in this alone because other sistas get us. Yes, we get one another but unfortunately, not everyone is for it - our personal space, of course.
Grief is no respecter of persons and BWWE respects all widows. We gladly promote all widows on our various platforms of outreach, such as our podcasts, Public Facebook pages, and written interviews and blogs, however, due to our historical and generational challenges, BWWE was created specifically for the black (and brown) widowed woman.
My intent was to create a safe, online and in-person group for women of color who can identify with the unique circumstances and challenges faced in a world of intolerance while Black and widowed.
"When people of color are together, there can be healing"
Several of the widows in my groups have often relayed how appreciative they are for a space that grants a judgment-free zone on not so conservative posts, a space that offers up a positive emoji or two (or three or four) for a job well done, and space where the African-American vernacular English can be appreciated, (when we feel like using it) and understood by our sistas, no matter how educated. Sometimes, being free in our own space allows us to, well, be unbound by the politically correct responses that are expected otherwise from other online or in-person private spaces.
Several weeks ago, a sista posted a great article to the group and it actually inspired me to (yet again) pen a response. I know, I shouldn't have to explain the need for a private gathering of black women widows to no one. But when you’re questioned publicly in interviews or even privately, repeated statements such as, “Why the need for a group for widows of color?" or "Don't we all grieve the same?" tend to be a constant thorn in my flesh.
"People of color need their own spaces.Black people need their own spaces"
I can’t tell you the number of comments or messages I receive about how a group like Black Women Widows Empowered has helped our widowed sistas with their journey. Many have stated that they’ve been searching for spaces for us by us and I’m glad they made our community their home. We’re a place with no filters, a place of strength, support, humility, anger, compassion, prayer, and empathy. Not only are we a place of solace for the Black widowed woman, but we also offer laughter, dating and relationship advice, and expressed love for our Black widowed sistas.
So with this being said, I've polled twelve ladies to obtain their responses to the question: Why do you need a safe space?
12 reasons why we need or our safe spaces.
"I was so happy and excited when I found this page, purely on accident. I am already a member of several widows groups but none were focusing on the unique issues of black widowed women (or men). Joining a group like this one has given me the freedom to be ME. This is a huge family of women who actually get it and understand what I've been through. Feeling accepted has given me the power to begin my life again and feel as though I can accomplish more. I feel safe putting my real self out there here. I am allowed to miss my beautiful Black husband here and talk about him here without judgment or reprisal. Best of all, posts and topics are very relevant to me as a Black widowed woman...something very hard to find "out there". Thank you for building this forum for us." -Cheryl B
"I found this group after five years of feeling like a "blue orange." I was widowed at 41, with a 10-year-old daughter and, Black, of course. I did grief counseling early in my journey. It was helpful, but I still felt alone. I needed a place to belong, and safe for me to be free to express my struggles, victories, and hard truths in this life. BWWE is that place for me. The women here lift me up and hold me down. I'm blessed to do the same." -Karen B
"Simply put, BWWE has helped me maintain my sanity in an insane world! Sometimes the external (and internal) pressures of loss and life can be overwhelming. This network is a safe haven in which to share and discuss those overwhelming challenges. It's therapy" -Melody
"It feels like my own village of sisters who know specifically what I’m going through. It has and still is helping me." -Dee Hooks-Knott
"A community to help and support us as we walk through this journey none of us expected. Sabra has been a great leader and protector of us." Thank you.
"This group is simply a blessing to many of the most vulnerable and painful time of life's journey. It's a road map to another dimension of life and sisterhood after the loss of your husband. I highly recommend this group."
"Very encouraging and uplifting." -Jessica Jackson
"This is a group where all widows are equal. Our common denominator is Widowhood. We love and support each other in any way we can."
"When I lost my husband on 1-10-16, I had so much family friend support. However, if you have never lost a spouse it's a different type of loss. This group gave me the type of support that was needed. I needed the support of others who experienced first hand the pain, empty void, hurt, and anger it brought to me." -Sheila McRae
"It’s important to have folks around you who can empathize with your circumstances. These sisters are those folks. When I thought I’d be lost forever in darkness, they helped me rediscover my light within." -Angelique Hilton
"Not having to explain to be understood has been invaluable. I hope you find that here if you need it." -Adrienne Leonard Pollard
"This group and Sabra’s book has made me be resilient. I’m still in remission and bounced back from two surgeries." -Savvy Boyd
Sisterhood among widows is necessary, in my opinion, especially among black and brown sisters. Support among black and brown widow sisters helps with healing.
Did you know that the heyday of Black sisterhood was in full effect during the 1950s and 1960s when we had to come together during the dawn of the Civil Rights Movement? But then as years passed, so did the sisterhood.
After stumbling across Katrina Bell McDonald's book, Embracing Sisterhood: Class, Identify, and Contemporary Black Women, Sociologist Patricia Hill Collins writes (among other things): "...unity among black women has long been threatened by differences among them, including differences in social class."(2)
Yes, the sisterhood exists but if compared to the tight-knit connection years ago, (and especially since the dawn of the Internet) can we truly say that it's still as powerful as it used to be?
Do we really categorize our sistas based on social class today?
Esteem and prestige are null and nonexistence in our group because unfortunately, we all share the same race and marital status.
We are all one melting pot of widows who share grief and loss with a different type of sisterhood. Our group consists of women who work in the blue collar industry, the white collar industry, there are retirees, ministers, and educated women (let me emphasize here that our educated sistas come from HBCUs, Ivy League, technical schools, and state colleges/universities).
Black women constructed and participated in multiple communities. These communities, or webs of relationships and networks, fell under two umbrella categories—spaces or communal sites—neighborhoods, schools, churches for affirmation and solidarity; and “experiences” of nurturing, mothering, organizing, and protesting against multiple oppression. Some women constructed, or shared in the development of both forms of community as they developed their own unique expressions of spirituality to keep body and soul together and to preserve mental health.(3). Furthermore, strategic networking and cooperation characterize black women’s complex relationships with each other. (4)
Many widows in the group have different stories of how they arrived into this community - from brutal murders (many unsolved), to accidents, and sudden illness. The power of our Black widowed community is undeniable, especially for those who are newly widowed.
We need to see them. We need to hear them. We need to support them.
I'll end here with a quote taken from a Black Chicago Tribune columnist in 2006 about the importance of the Black community. Although not directly related to widowhood, it indirectly aligns with the purpose of our struggle:
For some of us, it is the easiest thing in the world to idealize Black women. To romanticize them, sentimentalize them. Point being, bBack women are the strength and succor of their community. (5)
And this is why we need our own spaces.
1. Kelsey Blackwell, "Why People of Color Need Spaces Without White People," Arrow Journal, (August 2018). Retrieved from https://arrow-journal.org/why-people-of-color-need-spaces-without-white-people/
2. Katrina Bell McDonald, Embracing Sisterhood: Class, Identify, and Contemporary Black Women, (Lanham, MD: Rowan and Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2007), 10-11.
3. Marla F. Frederick, Between Sundays: Black Women and Everyday Struggles of Faith, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003), 10–14.
4. Darlene Clark HIne, "African American Women and Their Communities in the Twentieth Century: The Foundation and Future of Black Women’s Studies Author(s): JSTOR, (Spring 2007), Retrieved from https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5406/blacwomegendfami.1.1.0001
5. Leonard Pitts, “Black Women Can’t Save Black America Alone,” Chicago Tribune, May 30, 2006.