“The strong Black woman is as much a myth as Superwoman,” Cassandra James-Weathersby, 45, said.
It’s not personal strength or resilience or passion that Cassie, as she’s known to friends, takes exception with: It’s the external pressure to appear invincible, unstoppable, indefatigable that keeps women, particularly Black women, from addressing their trauma and giving themselves permission to heal.
She sees women in her community “not being allowed to heal, not being allowed the time to regroup. It’s a constant message of ‘You gotta get up! You gotta keep going. Just keep moving. You don’t have time for that.’”
Instead, James-Weathersby says, “Black Women Do Heal—and must heal.” It’s the message behind the nonprofit she’s establishing, the Facebook community she’s building, the networking brunches she’s been hosting since Spring and the brand-new quarterly digital magazine, Melanated Queen, she launched just this month.
“I, myself, am a survivor of a few things,” James-Weathersby shared. “I have Bipolar I Disorder. I’m an adopted child with the trauma of a mother who didn’t know she was suffering from her own mental health challenges. Attempted suicide.”
She’s ready and willing to talk about what she has survived—and the work she has put in—because she’s on a mission to destigmatize seeking help for mental health services, suicidal thoughts and behaviors.
“Your strength was never meant to weigh you down” is the message she’s sharing. “We should be able to have a conversation that you’re not okay today, and we, as your sisters, should uplift you and encourage you to seek that help. ‘You can have Jesus, prayer and some therapy, too!’ Then we can walk with you. Together, we can make it better for the generation of Black women behind us and break the cycle of not getting help.”
And even now, in 2020, talking about suicide can be taboo. “But it’s up to us to continue to have the conversation,” she said with passion. “We can’t prevent suicide if we’re not talking about it. Survivors can share their stories to help others. Most of us don’t want to die; we just want the pain to end. So if you want to help someone who has expressed suicidal thoughts or actions, help that person figure out what we can do right now so that there is a tomorrow. Let them know they are not alone and their story isn’t over. And don’t try to hush it all up, sweep the story under the rug and be ashamed. Because somebody needs to hear this story; it could save that life or the life of somebody they know because they have a better understanding of what could be going on and how to reach out.”
In addition to her mission to destigmatize, James-Weathersby is also on a mission to lift up and celebrate.
“We cannot have healing by only focusing on pain, trauma and mental health; life is holistic: body, spirit, work, finances,” she said. “We need all of these things to experience a full and wholehearted life. Black women do so much in their communities, but their voices may not be heard.”
So, during a global pandemic, James-Weathersby has set about creating a community and a platform for Black women, especially locally, to have real and meaningful conversations about topics that impact us as women.
Her Black Women Do Heal monthly virtual brunches allow time for exploration, expression and connection—and are completely free to the participants. And that’s the start of the services she plans to offer through the nonprofit she’s establishing to produce networking and empowering events as well as coaching services in all areas of life from finances and business ownership to relationships and mental health.
Her newest venture is Melanated Queen, a quarterly digital magazine. The issues center around a theme, and the feature story is the Queen of the quarter. “The queen brings something special to her community, something that stood out and drew our attention.”
Feedback from her inaugural issue has been overwhelmingly positive—and appreciative. Readers are writing in to say, “I needed to see this,” and, “That’s empowering.” Contributors, too, have shared that they felt empowered to be told by not only another Black woman but also an editor-in-chief that their perspective, what they have to say and the encouragement they want to share with other women really does matter.
Future issues will focus on plus-sized business owners, the young woman’s perspective and experience (18-25) and mother/daughter relationships. James-Weathersby and her small but mighty volunteer team are looking for contributors and nominations for the quarterly Queens. If you’d like to share your voice or nominate a Queen, reach out to her at email@example.com.
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