July 4, 2018
It has been one year since I first released Songs of Yemaya, an intersectional collection of literary voices by 24 Black women. A few weeks ago, I spoke before an interested, Bahai fireside in Washington, DC presenting Songs of Yemaya and my research on the Black women that preceded me. I began my talk with a fundamental realization that had occurred in early 2014 as I sat in a graduate gender studies class in South Florida. I had spent more than 3 decades “seeing” everyone else and qualifying their struggle, resilience and beauty from immigrants to Black men, but rarely had I turned the lens onto those in which I had the most intimate contact: Black women and ultimately myself.
Growing up in Prince George’s County, in the suburbs of Washington, DC, I was privileged to be surrounded by a robust community of African-Americans. Prince George’s County was and is a home that remains stocked with Black talent, beauty, resilience, success, southerness, northerness and otherness. It is where the Diaspora meets and re-meets, where immigrants from Mail, Burkina Faso, Ghana share communities, schools, ideas with those who are descendants 200 plus years removed from those locales. I had the luxury of feeling that as a Black body in my home county I had visibility. But as I sat in that graduate seminar, I remember critiquing that women like me were made invisible, and it was then that I realized how invisible, how absent, how uncelebratory, I too, had been of the women with whom I had been closest. Their achievements, their ways out of no ways, their everyday extraordinary were dangerously normalized, explaining exactly how the most educated group in America, Black women, could be paid so abysmally unfairly: $0.63 for every $1.00 that white men make. Being black was visible to me, but intersectionality was a new framework, an existential shift.
Awakening to the Idellas, the Hatties, the Viverines, the Emmas, the Jacquelines, the Joyces, the Jasmines, the Meagans, the Mumbis, the Chanels, the Luanas, the Trelanis, I found myself ready to do my part in creating more visibility and celebrating the perpetual greatness of Black womanhood, enter Yemaya, Black goddess who followed the ships of the enslaved to the new world, who remains with us, cleansing us, healing us.
Songs of Yemaya is the rich, full, robust by-product.
It is an ode to Black womanhood. It is reverence for my sisters who straddle invisibility when it comes to beauty, everyday womanhood, motherhood, sisterhood, humanity, successes micro and macro but experience hypervisibility in what society deems as negative such as our hair, our skin tone, our style, our laughs, our motherhood, our movements, our embodiment of the ancestors in dance, our accents, our speech and much more.
Today, this is my ode to the independence of Black women who excel despite, who continue to grow in their independence and create their own platforms for connection, excellence, healing, the culture, the kiddies. I want to thank the contributors again and again for lending me their voices.
Kehryse Vanessa Johnson
Queen Ella Zuree
L’Angela Honeysuckle Moon Lee
Tania Saintil (Deliverance-NOIRE)
Sileta Blue Hodge
Andria Nacina Cole
Donna McGregor Hall
I want to thank Trelani Michelle Duncan who was instrumental in putting this project together. I want to thank my good friend Diana Lane for being the graphic artist and ally to make Songs of Yemaya a beautiful, inspirational reality.
I want to thank you for making this a successful year.
Songs of Yemaya has been presented at the Baltimore Book Festival, distributed and presented at the Black Cultural Archives in London thanks to contributor Kehryse Vanessa Johnson, read in coffeehouses across the nation by contributing authors and sold to readers worldwide.
Happy 1st Birthday Songs of Yemaya!