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Dr. Sheron's Blog

Why Do We Have to Be So Strong?

The recent suicide of the 22-year old, beautiful, talented, nationally- renowned African American female blogger Karyn Washington is a crushing blow to the notion that being a strong Black woman will keep you alive. Washington is the founder of a mega popular website called For Brown Girls that extolled the beauty and power of girls with dark skin. The site was brimming with hope and enthusiasm. It uplifted, encouraged and empowered. The mission of For Brown Girls was “to promote self-love, celebrate darker shades of beauty and encourage those struggling with acceptance.” If that was not enough inspiration, Washington launched the “Dark Skin, Red Lips” project recently and invited women of dark skin to submit their photos wearing red lipstick.

Washington’s joy was infectious. She wrote on her site… “As humans, regardless of color, age, socio-economic status, gender, and other characteristics, we MUST build each other up rather than tear each other down in order to change the world and create a better place for our children and future generations. As women, it is imperative as well as our duty to love ourselves unconditionally, smile and laugh often, and NEVER allow ANYONE to steal our joy.”

Apparently Washington battled depression and mental illness. It is so ironic that the one who showered others with joy could not find any for herself. Her death reopens the discussion of suicide and Black women. We are often resourceful, resounding, resolute and remarkable in the worst of situations. We wear the Strong Black Woman badge with pride. Events that would make others turn and run, cause us to charge ahead. Yet many of us do not have an “Off” switch that gives the ability to relax and chill out sometimes. We do not give ourselves permission to be afraid. If we do, who will fight the dragons? We do not have the luxury of being weak. Who will do the heavy lifting?

Mental illness is still taboo in our community. Too many pastors tell their mentally ill members, “Just pray about it.” In fact, they should be making referrals to mental health professionals. Most of us have a “crazy” relative- if we are honest. We tolerate them in our presence and joke about them behind their backs. Instead, that mentally ill family member should be taken to get help.

I get tired and weary, and I am not ashamed of it. I am a mother and wife, with a career and community involvements. In the midst of giving away to others, I always monitor how I feel and take care of me. When I feel overwhelmed, I go lay down. When I feel tired, I go sit down. There are times when my brain feels like it is in the Spin Cycle of a dryer. On those days I let everyone know, I need some rest. Sometimes I am sad. When the sadness will not go, I reach out to my counselor. Everyone needs one of these, because life will turn you inside out.

Researchers indicate that suicide is a risk for Black women with unresolved childhood abuse and resulting trauma reactions, relationship with an abusive partner; experiences with racism and managing the chronicity of daily hassles, while connection to family, friends, and community, as well as the ability to ask for help and resources when needed were deemed protective factors. They say that effective treatment for depressed Black women focuses on increasing hopefulness and self-esteem through interpersonal connections.

I agree with them, but I must add. When you are in pain from depression or mental illness or anything else, scream as loud as you can. Somebody somewhere will hear you. You do not have to be strong all the time.

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