Photo: Roya DelSol

How Black Sisterhood Saved My Life

Growing up, my Kenyan mother raised me alongside two sets of Black aunties: my Kenyan aunties and my Caribbean aunties. Their common thread? The precise- and at times uncanny- ability to keep it real… all the way REAL. From casually announcing that I needed to wash my dusty feet upon entering the house after playing in the forest all day to surprisedly exclaiming when they entered the bathroom after I had just finished a number two (this one always sent me into fits of laughter), I traveled through childhood and entered teenage girlhood with an informal understanding that nothing is left unspoken amongst Black women. If they can smell it, they’re going to talk about it. If they can see it, they’re going to talk about it. And most importantly, if they can feel it, they are definitely going to talk about it. Their unapologetic levels of transparency gave me a sort of energy template for how freely I could approach my own relationships and sisterhoods, and I would eventually learn that once mastered, this unyielding transparency could be wielded into Black sisterhood communities of healing powers and saving graces. They were the thing that rerouted destinies, that broke generational curses, that lifted me higher onto the wings of angels; to be frank they were the ones who saved me.

Through much of my childhood and teenage years, I watched my father struggle with what I can now describe as a mid-life crisis combined with undiagnosed bipolar disorder. Despite his best intentions – God rest his soul – his relationship with my siblings and I was undoubtedly toxic, filling our home environment with a chaotic energy; all of us anticipating his next episode that would hurl us backwards into the powerless victim stance we hated so much. It was after these episodes that my feet would take me racing up the hill of my neighbourhood street, breathless, looking over my shoulders although I knew he’d never follow me to my auntie’s house. Her daughters were my best friends, and my first experience of what Black sisterhood meant. We were raised together and had spent our homeschooled childhood with each other. My self-proclaimed cousins would let me cry, catch my breath, break bread, and nourish my spirit to episodes of Girlfriends and Fresh Prince. And in this way, my cousins’ house, and the sisterhood we organically nurtured, became my first real example of a safe haven of a saving grace; a place I could enter any time of day or night, where I could be my truest self without judgment, where I could set down my bag of anxiety and remember how to breathe. Other times my mom brought us to their house on her way to her nightshift, quickly exchanging words with my Auntie among which I would often overhear the phrase, ‘Just pray.’ I would soon come to see how far this spiritual practice of my mom’s own Black sisterhood was carrying me.

I was still in survivor mode when I moved out to begin university and got into my first serious relationship. Around the three year mark, I realized that the environment I had spent much of that relationship in was filled with red flags of toxicity and emotional despair. This, of course, was not conducive to my overall evolution, and I left as quickly as I came. (*SIDENOTE* Is this a Cancer woman thing or an every woman thing where we get tired of being misunderstood, so we just dipset and start over with zero regrets? I actually love this side of us. It’s a revealing superpower which tells that we are listening to our mothers, aunties, and the Black sisterhood tribunal of our ancestors who are sending telepathic messages via our DNA.) As I started life anew on my own terms, I would bump into the aunties who raised me, who would tell me they were crying out to God for years for me to leave that relationship. At first I was shocked that my mother, a very spiritual being, had summoned the divine powers of her personal Black sisterhood in order to redirect my path, but when I became a mother, I also understood how integral Black sisterhood became to my very own existence and the lives of my immediate family. By the time I took my one-year old firstborn son to Kenya, Africa to meet his great-grandmother (and the rest of our family years later), I was prepared to hear my aunties keep it one hundred regarding their divine involvement in my personal timeline. Aunties from our village along with my mom’s sister who resides in Alberta, Canada laughed with me as they revealed their three-year prayer stride they had taken on as their personal mission. They declared that old relationship broken, they asked for my eyes to be opened, they requested guides to lead me to a land of milk and honey. I cannot reflect on the beauty of my life today without acknowledging my mother’s experience in wielding Black sisterhood as her personal superpower. They all carried me in supernatural ways I didn’t realize or even expect back then, ways that I now carry my own sons and the little ones I hold dear to my heart. This Presence, this ethereal cushioning is exactly what gives me so much hope for the next generation.

Fast forward to age twenty-three when I was shown in a dream that my then lover and best friend was to be my life partner. We were far from ready in all the ways western society has made us believe we need to be ready, however, if there’s one thing this life has taught me, it is that fortune favours the bold, and good lordt were we ever bold! Four weeks later, we would find us at the altar saying our vows to each other in front of our closest 40. From the moment we decided this was the flex, I watched for omens to confirm to myself that this was truly the path for us, and they did start pouring in from a multitude of beautiful Black women, new and old, who showed me that when it’s time to celebrate, we show up! The first good omen I received was my mom and sister’s wholehearted support for this last-minute wedding; they readied their troops, not only to attend the ceremony but to bring food for the celebration. My lover’s aunt offered up her house and living room to host the ceremony and celebration at which point I just bawled, because it was getting quite obvious that all of creation supported our last-minute act of loyalty to each other. The next omen was from a gifted Toronto seamstress who made my dress from scratch; surprisingly her schedule was free for the four weeks leading up to the wedding and she worked on my dress with me, fittings included. I will forever remember holding the finished dress as delicately as I could while standing on the bus ride home, practically unable to contain my joy. Then a multifaceted Toronto artist designed and assembled my wedding crown; she fit me into her schedule and delivered my customized headdress to my sister right on time. My dream Toronto hairdresser styled my hair the morning of, and even invited me to her salon beforehand where she sculpted out hairstyling options on me for the big day. Another huge omen was my lover’s best friend’s wife, a professional photographer, offering to document our big day free of charge, and gifting us cherished photos that I still stare at dreamily to this day. To say that all these beautiful Black women, mentioned and unmentioned, saved my last-minute wedding day, is the understatement of the century. They not only saved the day but created it, and breathed life into it. They gave it form and polished and perfected it. If this isn’t one of the greatest gifts Black sisterhood can ever give us, I don’t know what is. My wedding day will forever stand out in my memory because I was gifted a Black sisterhood committee who gave me the tools I needed to beautifully commemorate the day that officiated one of my first big decisions as a self-actualized human being and young woman.

From the earliest to my latest of memories, from my childhood all up until my five year old son’s recent birthday party, my life has been carried, guided, paved and saved by a host of Black women who come in the form of mothers, cousins, aunties, sisters, grandmas, great-grandmas and friends, and continue to show me the truest definition of what Black sisterhood looks like and how much it feels like home. Something Solange said during her speech at BET’s 2017 Black Girls Rock! awards ceremony really struck a chord with me, “…Black women make me feel invincible. It’s the way that we walk, the way that we talk, our soul, our sway, our grace, our roots, it’s our secret language with one another, the way we uplift each other at our best, and our worst…”. Now I pose to you this query: what does the future of Black sisterhood look like? How can we improve on our own design for the next generation? I don’t have all the answers, only some starting points I’ve collected along my journey. More softness, that carries not just our celebrations, but our difficult truths, for we can only truly connect when we can be vulnerable with each other; we can only truly connect when we are capable of being a safe haven for ourselves firstly, which grants us the permission to be the same for another. More forgiveness, more softness, because we are all growing at different points on our individual timelines. More surrender to the truths of who we really are, in acknowledging that we can only be to each other who we are in the grand scheme of our personal evolutions. A gentle reminder that we, Black women, are the very angels we call on, as we are essentially an amalgamation of the first Black woman to ever walk in this realm. And when we harness this sacred knowledge strung throughout our genetic makeup from generations past, our realities can shapeshift, take a u-turn, upheave and reinvent themselves from scratch. And so, let us journey freely. Lovingly. Openly. Together. Willingly. Joyfully. For we are the saving grace our ancestors dreamt about.

Photo: Roya DelSol

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