Lean In to Your Anger - "the talk" for Emerging African American Women Leaders
Updated: Jul 22
I’m teaching my last leadership class this week and I was going to discuss what it means to thrive in communities as a leader. I was thinking about positivity and how crucial that is to one’s success as a leader. And then I saw the African American women’s faces (yes, I have a class of only black women) who are in my class and I had to STOP. I was suddenly compelled to rethink where I was going with this. How could I talk about positivity and thriving in communities when there is so much negativity around us as black women? Moreover, how can I better prepare them to understand that as black women leaders our message isn’t always heard because of our race and gender? So how do I get them ready to deal with all THAT?
As leaders we are always having to renegotiate ourselves. Whether it’s in the classroom or boardroom, basketball court or court room, we are assaulted with negativity. As a result, we carry so much baggage when we enter these ‘rooms’! For example, our bodies are assaulted, sexually or physically, at a rate of 3.5 higher than any other group in this country and we are least likely to report. Did you recently see the police officers’ assault on a 68-year-old black woman in North Carolina for speeding? Another video too painful to watch due to the excessive force used against her. I wept for her. I sobbed for the millions of black women who feel like this every day because they literally or figuratively feel like they are being yanked by their hair out of a car, thrown to the ground, and then joked about it like you’re not even there.
So, I am writing this to the black women in my class. Yes, to you so you I can share some of the wisdom it’s taken me so long to learn. As I’ve said so many times before, I wish I had someone to tell me these things in my formative years. We were only told to work twice as hard to keep up, three times as hard to get ahead. And to keep a head held high no matter how badly life was hurting us. Oh, and don’t cry because those tears don’t get you anywhere anyway! This has made us broken and angry. But I think that Brittany Cooper (author of Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower) it the nail on the head when she writes about how, “our anger is our superpower.” We have the right to be angry and so we should no longer make any excuses about our rage. But we also need to channel that rage into this leadership moment in a form of positivity so that we can make change and do ‘good’ in our respective communities.
I want to say to you that I do believe the times are a-changin’. In fact, it is being said it is our time. We are seeing women of color like Stacey Abrams, Kamala Harris, and Opal Tometi making disruptive but impactful change in our communities. This change is realizing the depth of how so many systems are failing Americans. This coupled with the fact it’s been like this for 400 years doesn’t make it insurmountable but, damn, it does look and feel frightening. But Pandora’s Box is open and it’s too late to stuff it back from where it came from. As a result, your leadership is needed now more than ever! But how do we navigate through Pandora’s Box and be our best and effective selves as leaders?
So, while not perfect, here are my thoughts on how to begin keeping ourselves in a state of positivity:
Create a sistah circle. It’s important to keep your head together which means having positive-minded people around you. People can either bring you down and suck the very life out of you or uplift you and help you soar. First, find a good confidant whether it is a therapist or pastor. They are trained to help with healthy emotional healing. Second, find mentors that keep you engaged and network worthy as you grow professionally. They will keep you connected whether you need a scholarship, grant funding or looking or a new position. Lastly, get yourself some good gurlfirends. They stick with you despite how ugly Pandora’s Box gets! You are entrusting ‘your stuff’ with these individuals, whether personal or professional, and they want to ensure that you are being your best self.
Hear your inner voice. How we talk to ourselves makes all the difference in the world. If you are affirming yourself, great. But if you are focusing on the negative things about yourself then that’s obviously not good. How you feel about you impacts how you communicate and make decisions for yourself and others. If you’re unkind to yourself, you are more than likely unkind to others. If you don’t believe in yourself no one else will. Instead, reflect on the good stuff. Find ways to build your confidence in yourself because you’re the only one that can do that. Go see a therapist and determine why you’re a ‘Negative Nellie’ and get it fixed post-haste!
Reflection is important. Take the time to reflect on what’s happened that day or for the week. Be mindful of what you learned from your time with yourself and how to take that energy into your work or personal life. Another part of reflecting is our time to worship and pray. Our spirit needs the fuel to stay refreshed and focused. Lastly, be grateful. As Sistahs, sometimes we complain more than remembering what we should be appreciating.
Do what brings you joy. My mom always told me to have one thing in life that’s yours and yours only. It is not to be shared with anyone else. It might mean a video game, a good book, cooking a special meal, trip to the beach, quilt making or oil painting. Or try something you’ve never done before. You do you and let your energy flow into what makes you happy. Being kind to yourself is so refreshing and wonderful for the soul!
Your body (really) is a temple. It really is! Take care of it. Drink plenty of water, eat plenty of fruit and veggies, and eat healthy proteins. And exercise, exercise, exercise. I know you know all of this, but do you actually do it? Walk with a friend, find exercise/yoga videos on YouTube, or get a piece of equipment for your home. Diabetes, heart disease and hypertension are huge killers in our community. Simply put, when you exercise and eat right you feel better, and you live longer.
Manage your coins well. Your wealth is your legacy which is something that has not always been achievable for us. Learn to invest your money well. Many retirement options with companies are beginning to go by the wayside so remember to pay yourself first. Look for options that ensure you’re not paying tons in taxes later. Find a good financial planner whether through your employer’s retirement plan or get a recommendation from family, mentor, or friend. Having money set aside gives you peace of mind. It’s one less thing you need to fret about. Don’t live beyond your means.
Support your community. Many of us are making decisions about where we eat, shop, live and work just so we know how money is going to places that believe in human rights. When we see how disproportionately racism affects our lives, we don’t want to continue to support that behavior. And you’ll feel good about you as you have the power to make these choices for yourself.
Celebrate Yourself! When you reach a goal, celebrate! And do so with your kinda style! With family/friends or do solo. It might be a day at the spa or cooking a fabulous (healthy) meal for yourself with a favorite wine you enjoy. However, you define celebration for a job well done is up to you but make sure you do it. Loving what you have accomplished is well worth spending time celebrating the event.
I’m not trying to sound like page 31 in Essence magazine as I’m sure you know a lot of this already. But we don’t always get the whole package and given the political climate it’s important to hammer this in as much as I can. Thank you for inspiring me to do a better job of making sure that while we are born into oppression it doesn’t mean we stay there. It means that while I’ve watched young black women begin to master the art of leadership it also means I help to create space for self-care as a part of the leadership journey.
This all takes me back to why I began thinking about ourselves as leaders for today, we’re being called to action because it is our time. It’s our time to dismantle the systemic racism that has been so pervasive in our country’s structures by using your savviness to start new nonprofits that address changing the political landscape, create spaces that help to empower women of color, fight social justice issues like voting rights, educating our communities about environmental/climate change or help black/women entrepreneurs obtain financial support.
Fueling our body, mind, and spirit with positivity as well as some of the anger we have arms and emboldens us to do battle in a holistic and grounded way. What a recipe for creating change as leaders! So, go on out there and be your best self and be the leader that you are learning to be.