Emotional. Powerful. Necessary.
These are the three words that immediately came to my mind as I left the African Development Center, where VoteRunLead hosted the Self-Care & Leadership Training with Dr. LG Shanklin-Flowers.
When I first met with Liz Johnson, I felt an immediate connection. As we drank kombucha and talked about our stories, I knew this was a person I should spend more time with. As we wrapped up our meet up, Liz invited me to a training down in Minneapolis with a woman she said I must meet. That is one thing about genuine people that I adore, they know other incredible people. Dr. Shanklin-Flowers was not only incredible but honestly interested in aiding to everyone’s development in that room.
From the start, Dr. Shanklin-Flowers created an atmosphere that was safe and validating. She allowed people to explore others’ identities which laid the foundation for human connectedness in the room. Next Dr. Shanklin-Flowers asked us a series of questions as we placed ourselves on a spectrum to understand where we were on our self-care journey. During this exercise, I felt myself being proud and also not being so proud, but Dr. Shanklin-Flowers told us that it is important to acknowledge the emotions that come, and to recognize where it comes from.
As women we are conditioned to put other people’s needs before our own.
This was important to do because as women, we are conditioned to put other people’s needs before our own. We never are allowed time to process our needs, wants, and feelings. When I felt the guilt and the shame, I connected it to a book I am reading by Gloria Wade-Gayles titled No Crystal Stair, a black feminist criticism text. This study analyzed black womanhood and her dynamic journey of going from “can’t to can and back to can’t again.” This is a phenomenon that every woman, no matter skin color, can relate with; the processing, the attempt, the success and or failure of merely wanting to live for you.
An experience shared by women from all walks of life
As I looked across the room, I saw women from many backgrounds and races; some professional women with kids, some single women with no kids but what each and every single woman had in common; we were not living for ourselves alone. Whether it was only thinking about our children’s needs or put our communities’ needs first, everything came before our own. Once I realized this, the training became that much more powerful. Throughout, Dr. Shanklin-Flowers encouraged us to take up as much space as possible. We were told to stand as we spoke, increase our volume, and be bold. This thoughtful building up of our confidence is necessary because we live in a world where women are conditioned to only be small. When Dr. Shanklin-Flowers explained why it was necessary for us to take up space, I recalled the very moment I was forced into smallness.
Thoughtful building up of our confidence is necessary because we live in a world where women are conditioned to only be small.
I was 14 or 15, living in Ibadan, Nigeria with a friend of my parents. I was really happy because my parents were with us for the holidays. My Dad told a funny story and I responded appropriately, with laughter. Apparently my laugh was a bit much (it is pretty loud) and the woman I was living with quickly cut her eyes at me and said loudly, “Come on! Will you laugh like a lady?!” This moment silenced me for a long time, and it was a memory I thought was buried. With that reflection I knew I was in a safe space and I was allowed to be vulnerable.
Dr. Shanklin-Flowers allowed time for learning, reflection, and processing; she held our hand every step of the way. What struck my heart was the shared experience of every woman allowing themselves to feel. Feel the emotions, allowing ourselves time to understand why self-care is crucial to our existence as women. A day with Dr. LG Shanklin-Flowers was exactly what I needed. Women are not allowed this and it is literally killing us from the inside out. No matter where you are at in your self-care journey understand one thing, a quote by Dr. Shanklin-Flowers herself, “You are good, good, goodly good.”