How did you arrive at creating the Black Women Are for Grown Ups project?
My inspiration for the Black Women Are For Grown Ups campaign came from two sources: first, Mama Maya Angelou’s life which I’ve been in awe of since I was a teenager. For me she’s always represented this woman who had brazenly lived such a complex and complete life. She was a former sex worker, United States poet laureate, university professor, a self-proclaimed “great daughter," mentor and so much more. My second stimulus was rapper Eve’s marriage to billionaire, Maximillion Cooper. Eve’s a tatted up, former stripper, self-proclaimed “pit bull in a skirt,” who had been in a sex tape made public by a former lover and when I saw an image of her glowingly walking the aisle with her new husband I was incredibly moved to see her happy in her full self and love. I reposted this wedding photo in 2014 and it was the first time I used #BlackWomenAreForGrownUps and Black women from everywhere were commenting, “AMEN!” It then clicked for me that Black women with intricate, full and contradictory lives like Maya’s, Eve’s, mine and yours aren’t expected to breakout of the fantasies that white gaze and patriarchy often creates for us, but we do every day and it should be praised. BWAFGU is a celebration of our audacity to not only survive, but thrive. Who’s flyer than us? We are grown and owning all the parts of our stories all while being clear that those who can’t handle it ought to move aside. I built in the limited edition tee which serves as a simple reminder that our journey’s matter. The tees continuously sell out within days and there isn’t a week that goes by that I don’t get a message from some fierce Black woman sharing how this entire campaign has affirmed her. I love it!
How has this project brought you closer to becoming you?
My father once told me that I was direct in a world of evasiveness and that I had to be careful because people don’t always appreciate women who operate like me. I sat with that for many years and this project has helped me resolve that being forthright is worth the risk. Having a mantra like “Black Women Is For Grown Ups” personally pushes me to be my full self no matter where I am, no matter who I’m with. If I’m shopping and a white woman reaches to touch my hair I feel fine smacking it away and saying, “nah.” If I’m not on the same page as my lover I feel inclined to say, “Let me tell you exactly how I feel right now…” instead of bottling it up. If I have tension with another Black woman I feel responsible to say, “Hey sis, let’s talk it through,” and work my hardest to find common ground. If I am being mistreated because I’m a Black woman I feel powerful enough to say, “You will not treat me this way,” and fight for my rights by any means. Every day I hear new stories, some public and some private, from Black women who feel connected to this campaign. I am consistently inspired by their honesty, bravery and love. So much of who I am now is a reflection of them. I feel grateful for this work.
Images from Stevona's BWAFGU Chapbook
What Black woman is currently inspiring you?
I’m currently being inspired by my friend and remarkable creative Armina Mussa’s conceptual book, Unknown Wyoming. Her work is a masterpiece that intimately displays her fragmented self merely two months after she was stabbed ten times outside her New Orleans home and battled for life. Unknown Wyoming is the name given to her on her hospital bed as she lay in critical condition and I love that she chose this title almost as much as the actual visuals. In some form or fashion I think as Black women we all feel unknown in this world and we spend our lives discovering and re-discovering self-love, courage and strength in order to survive. As someone who has endured unthinkable trauma she describes this body of work as a “true ode to broken things” but ironically when I engage with it I feel incredibly whole and proud.
Pay it Forward: who or what has recently changed the way you viewed a social/political/cultural issue?
Black women are always on the move creating and molding a better world for ourselves, each other, and generations to come. As a result our communities are constantly asking “What’s next?” or “Have you thought about your next steps?” and I was personally feeling a lot of pressure to deliver. I recently watched a behind the scene glimpse into Solange’s creative process for ‘A Seat At The Table’ and it reaffirmed for me that quality takes time and that we as Black women deserve the space to ‘just be’ in the face of all we endure. There are moments in our journey where we need to completely remove ourselves from the opinions of others, be around people who love us for us and let the vibe for our next move grow organically from there. Over four years that woman worked on an album that many of us will play for a lifetime. I find that awe inspiring.
I recently moderated a conversation with singer Corinne Bailey Rae for Saint Heron and this moment was deeply personal to me because the love of my life, ‘Tre, who was killed gifted me her first album, “Put Your Records On." As a couple we deemed ‘‘Like A Star’ our song and until last year I couldn’t listen to that record without bawling. I couldn’t believe that ten years later I was gearing up to interview the woman who created it. I had so many mixed feelings. However, I knew that Corinne had lost her husband to a drug and alcohol overdose a few years back so she’d understand this type of grief. When I asked her what helped her heal she talked about the power of nature. She has a phenomenal 6 part podcast about nature and a slew of other helpful topics that have brought me a great deal of closure. Now whenever I get sad about ‘Tre I go outside and breathe. I remind myself that I am surrounded by God’s love and everything is working together for my good. I even heard ‘Like A Star’ on the radio the other day and smiled.
+ You arrived here, now journey with Stevona and the series here: Stevona.com