anything we love can be saved: on therapy & healing

a joint essay by bilphena + breya.

Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.
— Audre Lorde


i’ve read alice walker’s “anything we love can be saved” over and over again. i’ve read that title over and over again. always thinking about alice walker and her perspective. i can admit the pessimist in me struggled with this. can we truly save anything we love? well no, i don’t think we can always save anything we love. but i started to think about this title in a different way a few months ago. i started to think about me. my self-love and what i’ve done to “save” myself only because of that love.

it’s been over 5 months since i’ve returned to therapy. i tried this therapy thing before but this time it’s been different. i’ve been consistent. i’ve been committed. i’ve been accountable to myself and my therapist. every thursday, 12-1pm, im off the grid.

going back to therapy was my greatest manifestation of self-love.

while talking about relationships and partnerships my therapist said to me “it takes a lot of courage and confidence to allow someone to take care of you.” i say the same about going to therapy. you are allowing yourself to sit in front of someone without guards and break over and over and over again. there can be no shame and so often shame is what deters us from seeking outside help.

my life has changed over the past 5 months. therapy was “anything we love can be saved” for me.  i chose to love myself enough to say “it’s time.” furthermore, i chose to love myself enough to know that i was still savable. of course i cannot talk about therapy and choosing to “save” yourself without acknowledging accessibility.  that some of us love ourselves enough to want to get help but not all of us have the financial ability to get that help. i recognize this. that love alone did not take me to therapy or on this healing journey. i needed more help than i had for myself and i sought that help knowing i could afford to do so.  

i talked about my therapy journey publicly a few weeks after starting. i didn’t give details, i just said i was in therapy. and as the months passed, i started doing small threads after each session to share what i had learned. the responses to this surprised me. i received so many messages from folks, mainly black women, wanting to know more about therapy, how i found my therapist and asking for tips and advice.

my heart swelled and still swells every time i receive a message from a black women looking to start this journey. this is why i chose to share mine. i wanted to normalize this process. i wanted to create a space for black women to explore questions and hesitations they have without shame. i wanted us to start talking about individual and collective healing.

in addition to issues of accessibility, i’ve come to see that so many people do not understand the therapy process. that going to therapy with the expectation of a therapist fixing you is a one way ticket to disappointment. that the therapist you choose must be for you. that sitting in that chair is only 10% of the work. so here i am writing this post on my journey to help other black women. but i knew i could not do it on my own. while there is so much in my story that can be helpful, i knew i could not write this without my sister. breya. breya has been a constant in my life for years. breya has set therapy appointments for me and i have set therapy appointments for her. she’s walked me by hand into therapy sessions and i’ve done the same for her. she was the first person to know when i went back to therapy and my accountability partner. breya herself has had such a journey in her process and i wanted this to be shared.

so in addition to sharing our stories, we’ve also compiled a list of frequently asked questions with our answers. everything from how we found our therapist, to how we pay for therapy to the work therapy requires even when you’re not in that seat. if you are looking to start your journey, i hope that this post calms your hesitation and anxiousness. i hope that reading parts of our stories will help you see that you are not alone in this.

Breya post .jpg


Therapy felt more like a punishment than a space for healing and I resisted every part of it. Your therapist cannot help you if you are not open to the help. I never saw the benefits of therapy in my life until college when I decided to major in psychology; and college was where I discovered feminist psychology. My junior year a sister circle group led me to a referral with a therapist who helped me make incredibile changes in my life. I learned how to become more intentional with my own self-care, I learned how to take accountability for my flaws. I wanted to see myself, I wanted to understand myself outside of labor production, my resume, and any other form of validation. The dream of who I wanted to become or who I would be without all my trauma was consuming me and everything in my life felt polarized. I wanted to deliver myself from self doubt.

Audre Lorde’s “your silence will not protect you” was hovering over me. I was at a place in my life where I regretted everytime I chose silence over honesty. Silence was something I thought gave me control over myself, I thought silence was empowering. I told myself I couldn't control what people were doing to me but I could control my response.

I became an extremely private person, and I avoided conflict because I felt not giving people my words was stronger. It was not. I thought committing myself to privacy and avoiding conflict would make me stronger. It did not.  You cannot use silence as a shield, you cannot avoid self advocacy and accountability with silence either. Therapy was the commitment to speak.

You do not always realize the ways you are being silenced or the ways you’re silencing yourself until your therapist identifies it for you. Before I went to therapy there was a lot in my life that I had normalized, and those things were not normal or acceptable. It was time for me to remove the boundaries in my life that were actually barriers and let flexibility, love, and trust into my life. The question was did I love myself enough to commit to learning how to love me?

I wanted a therapist who was honest and straightforward with me, I needed to be held accountable in my sessions so that I could make all the necessary changes in my life. Most importantly, I needed help pinpointing where my tensions were coming from. I had a psychodynamic therapist, so indefinying tensions and interpersonal conflict was a huge part of our sessions. (I strongly recommend searching modalities before therapy to see which ones are more representative of your needs) After my sessions I would usually journal about whatever I was feeling in that moment. Sometimes after a really intense therapy session I needed alone time to regroup. I did not always walk out of therapy feeling lighter because some type of weight had been lifted, and that is ok. It is a process, it is often a very frustrating process; I went in with problems I identified myself while my therapist started to identify others. Sometimes I was frustrated with myself, my interpersonal relationships, and even my own therapist. Trust is a huge part of therapy, you have to trust your therapist so that you are able to accept their perception of your circumstances. You have to trust in the critiques your therapist in making, trust in the homework assignments, trust in the entire process. Trust the process also means showing up. I was deliberate about therapy. I scheduled my appointments and everything else in my life had to work around those appointments. I refused to cancelled on myself unless I absolutely could not make a session.

Frequently Asked Questions

How did you find your therapist?

bilphena: my therapist was recommended to me by a mentor. but i did not make the call at the time. i sat on it for over a year before i finally set my appointment. i was lucky to feel that my therapist was for me after the second session. not only is she a black woman, she has the immigrant experience and her upbringing resembled mine. you can also use Therapy For Black Girls to search for a therapist.

Breya: I asked people for referrals, and I used the website to read bios and make price comparisons of therapist in the area. What I looked for online was their modality, I was looking for a psychodynamic therapist. Ultimately, I decided to take advantage of my schools counseling center since those resources are free to me.

What is your biggest advice for finding a therapist?

bilphena: do not feel stuck with a therapist just because you went to a session. i see this all the time. people who go to one session and even though they know something is off they stay because they feel obligated to. don’t do this. there is no healing that can take place if your therapist is not for you. this means looking at race, gender, sexuality, experiences, therapy styles and so forth. think about all of your identities and all of the needs you have as a result of those identities before choosing a therapist. just because your therapist is black does not mean that they have the skill to navigate the other parts of your identities. So just having a black therapist or a woman therapist or a queer therapist isn’t always enough if your other identity needs are being abandoned. furthermore, think about your communication and learning style. it can be difficult to learn and process from your therapist if you two communicate completely differently.

Breya:  It is going to feel uncomfortable during your first session, but ask them questions. Ask about their modality, ask what type of homework they usually give, ask whatever you feel is relevant in that moment. You probably won't find what you truly need that first time, however, it is important to ask yourself is it not working because you’re holding back? Or is it because you are not connecting with the therapist? Also, disclosing your apprehensions in the beginning can make all the difference. If you do not have access to a therapist that represents your identity, talk about how that makes you feel.

How do you / did you pay for therapy?

bilphena: when I first started therapy years ago, it was through my university and my tuition covered the cost. currently, my therapist is paid for through my job. while she doesn’t take insurance, my job has benefits in addition to insurance that i use to cover this expense.

Breya: I currently go through my university which means my sessions for the semester are free. In the past I had to work out a payment plan with a therapist and budget appropriately. (This was only because this therapist allowed payment plans) If you have any religious affiliation your church might provide free therapy sessions that you might find useful.

What do you think is the biggest misconception about therapy?

bilphena: people truly believe that your therapist will fix you and that is not how therapy works. at all. your therapist cannot do anything if you are not doing the work yourself. your therapist is there to provide you names, language and tools to understand and deal with whatever you’re bringing. you have the toolbox, your therapist is adding the tools but you have to know how and when to use the tools provided. how you use and apply what they give you is all on you. one of the things i learned from breya is journaling after each therapy session. It helps me reflect on what was said, how i can apply what was said and to brain dump. i can also track my progress through this journaling and refer back to old entries when i need reminders. It is not enough to only have epiphanies and realizations while with your therapist, you have to do this throughout the time that you two are not together.

Breya: some people think that just disclosing their pain and trauma is the most transformative step in therapy, but i do not believe that is the case. Many of us went to therapy because we did not have people in our personal lives we felt could help us. Or because we needed someone to talk to. However, disclosure (while still a valid and important step) is not enough. The most transformative moment of therapy is when you start to take accountability for yourself outside of therapy. Therapy is accountability just as much as it is disclosure.

How do I know when to go to therapy?

bilphena: there is no right time to go to therapy. while many of us wait for when we are at our darkest hour to finally ask for help, it doesn’t always have to be that way. therapy isn’t only for trauma or for mental health issues.  it can be used for every aspect of your life. i’ve also heard people say “well i wouldn’t know what to talk about with my therapist.” that’s absolutely fine. you don’t need to go into therapy with a plan or a topic. we often don’t even know what we need emotionally or things we’ve buried that must be worked through. if you have a good therapist, they’ll know how to guide you.

Breya: some people are forced into therapy, while some people decide to go on their own. I like to believe you should seek therapy when you truly believe the resources and support systems in your life are not enough. However, I agree with Bilphena, you do not have to wait for your darkest moment before you go to therapy. You do not have to walk into therapy with a plan, but rather a commitment to loving yourself holistically.

How often do I need to go to therapy?

bilphena: deciding on a therapy schedule is something that can be done with your therapist. therapists usually use your intake and first few sessions to decide the aggressiveness of therapy that’s needed. i started by going to therapy once a week. recently, my therapist and i decided that i didn’t need to go once a week and once every two weeks would be fine. if my needs changes, we can always change the frequency of my sessions.

Breya: this is something you and your therapist will gave to decide after your first intake. Different circumstances mean different levels of care and of course finances will also play a huge part in how often you decide to go. My plan was to go weekly, then biweekly, and then monthly.

bilphena. where you been?

i know, i know, it's been so long since i've updated this website. i've gone through so many changes and so much goodness is happening in my life. so let's see: i facilitated a womanist workshop (for black girls considering womanism because feminism is not enuf) with nnenna which was featured in afropunk. this workshop was something i've wanted to do for so long but wasnt sure how. i'm so grateful still to nnenna for coming in and doing this with me. i started a new job doing restorative practices / justice work and despite how exhausting it can be, i absolutely love what i do. i have a job where i can be bold about my personal politics and  where i can be blackity black without worrying about consequences. that job took me to new orleans to work with jackie sumell (this woman is magic) of solitary gardens. jackie is an instructor at dillard university and myself + my co-worker barb (of millennial mocha moms) took over her classes and taught restorative practices. and through jackie, i was able to attend colin kaepernick"s "know your rights" camp and thanks to colin, i was able to meet + hug chamillionaire (i'm still not over this yet). you see that domino effect of goodness? let's not forget i was featured in the baltimore sun, i gave a keynote, i gained weight and most importantly, i fell in love with myself again. i am in such an amazing place in my life both personally and professional and i'm truly grateful. 

how did i get here? this journey has been a hard and painful one. my 2016 + most of 2017 was an emotional mess. i was unsure of myself, of my path and i struggled to see my own light. i was exhausted from always being everyone's emotional dumpster and placing the needs of others before my own. and somewhere in that mess, i decided this wasn't going to work any longer. i sat down and really re-mapped my life. i wanted more, i deserved more. this is work everyday. but it's work I'm committed to doing. so here i am. happy, confident, loved and flourishing. i have a new fire in me and even when i find myself slipping into old negative behaviors, that fire reminds me of how far i've come. 

so to - I'm sure you've noticed that the website went through some changes. as much as i enjoyed interviewing folks and the other tabs i had, i just do not have the time. rather than having sections on here that i know i won't be able to update, i've simplified things. everything will be included in my blog section and of course my reading list is still here. i've updated it with more reads including the womanist packet we created for the workshop.  thank you all for rockin' with me for the past 3 years! 

i'm excited to see where life takes me next. i am letting life do life but still assisting the universe on my behalf. 


a letter to my teenage self.

                                                                                                              image credit - george ekwensi

                                                                                                              image credit - george ekwensi

breathe. yes, breathe. you spend so much time not breathing. you spend so much time suffocating yourself.  you spend so much time pulling yourself apart. i need you to just breathe and to just be. 

those two things are so hard for you. i know. but it will get better. you will reach an age where breathing becomes the only thing you know how to do. you will learn to be. but not soon. first come the fears. you have many. but you're good at hiding it. you fear who you truly are so you will sit on yourself for some time. a long time. but college will come and you will let her free - well sorta kinda. but then again, is anyone really free? 

you will go through many phases. wearing bows in your hair and chains on your pants because avril lavigne and red hot chili peppers are life. to oversized sweat pants and hoodies because you watched too much america's best dance crew and wanted the dancer look. to your i must wear ankh everything to prove I'm down with the movement look. you will do it all. never comfortable in yourself and always searching here and there for a better self. you will find self-love you will lose self-love, rinse and repeat. 

everyone will tell you that you've changed since high school. to everyone this change seemed so sudden, but you know its not. they were never really paying attention. you started to question everything a while ago but like always, you kept it in. you will struggle with this. this need to stay safe. being safe will be all you know. being safe for your friends. being safe for your family. never considering yourself. you will be safe for sometime but then you will hit 19 and you will start finding other words to define yourself with. womanist will be the most important and safe will find another home. 

lord, you will be problematic as hell. but you will learn and you will grow. 

hold on to that 99 cent composition book. the one you named 'the best of bilphena' and filled with poems and short stories. that book will make you a self-published author at 22. people will resonate with the words you birthed and cradled. it will take you some time to see how worthy you are of this praise but you will get there. 

you will come face to face with depression and anxiety. you won't call them by name for sometime. they will tell you lies about yourself and you will believe it. and you will find that darkness is all you want some days. you will learn that this is okay too and the same patience you extend to others you must also extend to yourself. 

you will spend so much time fighting. you will learn that being a black woman means fighting all the damn time. you will tire yourself from giving so much and will find your mother's ways in you. but you will eventually learn that fighting is not the only way to show strength. 

speaking of your mother, you will learn to see her as a whole person and not just your mother. you will learn about her trauma and you will see how you've inherited some of it. but trauma isn't all you inherited. you will learn that your mother is fierce in her ways and you will embrace this in yourself.  you will write an entire book about this. about breaking the cycle of women carrying trauma in their bones because they have been told that this is their duty. 

you will master the art of saying so much but really not saying anything at all. this is your defense. transparency and vulnerability will not be your friend for some time. for a very long time. but you will eventually find love. love that will be vulnerable, love that will be transparent. love that is freeing. and you will learn how to breathe through this love. but you will lose this love and will have to teach yourself vulnerability and transparency again. but you will be okay. and your heart, so strong, will take many hits but it will carry you through. trust it and trust yourself. 

i know it's hard to believe where you are now, but you will find your fire. oh and you will burn and you will be a force to deal with. you will be bold. you will exist and be so loud about your existence. some will love how you exist, others won't. but you will not bend because you will finally be okay with all of you. and you will present all of you in everything you do. 

trust your journey. let life do life but assist it on your behalf. you are becoming and you are breathing. you are here.  


Zina Saro-Wiwa - Phyllis (2010)

This year, I've been very intentional about reading works only by women of color, especially Black and African women. I've extended this to include all forms of art. This week I went searching for African women filmmakers and found this short film by British-Nigerian video artist + filmmaker - Zina Saro-Wiwa. A founder filmmaker of the alt-Nollywood movement, Saro-Wiwa draws connections between Nollywood filmmaking tropes, food, faith, the blurred lines of identity politics and emotional landscapes. Her short film Phyllis focuses on a lonely woman living in Lagos, Nigeria who is obsessed with Nollywood dramas. The film explores the significance of wig-wearing in Nollywood film and critiques the stereotypes associated with being a single woman in Nigeria. Other underpinning themes include loneliness and mental illness.

"Phyllis, this character, is an obsessive. She’s mute and she lives in this one room. She’s obsessed with Nollywood and the emotions and passion she sees within these films, and she has Nollywood posters everywhere. She’s a Christian, and she has these plastic Jesus clocks all over her two rooms. She lives alone. She’s a single woman. And I think with Nollywood, women like that, they’re called “ashawo” — which literally means “wayward woman.” Women who are single are seen as a threat somehow. But ultimately, Phyllis represents the gap between our true essence and the plasticity — represented by plastic flowers, knick-knacks and furnishings, and the performative emotiveness that exists in Nigeria. Phyllis is trying to access what she perceives as humanity through the wigs, through synthetic representations of Jesus, and through Nollywood. They are short-term hits, and she is ultimately doomed to a cycle of longing and short-term satisfaction." - Zina Saro-Wiwa (on the meaning behind her short film Phyllis)


*images above are photographic works created alongside the film

feel it and call it by name

in 2017, i've spent more time feeling and calling what i feel by name. i think many of us feel that we must always turn our negative emotions/thoughts/feelings into positive ones. we are uncomfortable being angry. uncomfortable being jealous. uncomfortable being envious. uncomfortable being bitter. not only are we uncomfortable by these emotions, we struggle to name them. it is not cute to admit that you are bitter. it is not cute to admit that you are jealous. so instead, we create other feelings to mask what is really happening. you've done it / do it. i've done it / do it. a scroll through social media and you are constantly told to be positive. to let go of bad thoughts and emotions. is this wrong? no. positivity is good and is needed. but there must be a balance. 

i think what we fail to discuss is what happens when we run away from human emotions. why so many of us struggle to unpack what we feel and struggle to name what we feel and therefore we are carrying shame and embarrassment. we must rid ourselves of this emotional dichotomy. that our emotions can either be good or they can be bad. sometimes, they just are. as humans we have complex emotions. sometimes what we feel is dark and that is okay. do not equate that with bad. 

feel it. the thing that you don’t want to feel. feel it. and be free.
— nayyirah waheed

you must feel it. feel everything. if you are bitter, allow yourself to sit in your bitterness. if you are jealous, allow yourself to sit in your jealousy. if you are angry, allow yourself to sit in your anger. this is how you heal. you heal by feeling it first, naming it second and then working to let it go. we do not heal by ignoring. we do not heal by pushing fake positivity. being able to be comfortable in your ability to feel all that you can as a human is a process. most importantly, we cannot rush healing. healing can take a week, a month and sometimes even years. your healing journey is your healing journey. do not place a deadline on healing.  

when it falls down, who you gon' call now?

these past few weeks have been hard.  filled with the unresolved grief over an ending and other hardships i have chosen to keep private. rebuilding parts of my self-esteem that were left tarnished. reaffirming my worth. reacquainting myself with myself. this heart of mine took a hit. and if the personal dealings of my life was not enough, if depression and anxiety was not enough, the world continues to offer me more grief. day after day, the breaking news keep pouring in.

i watch friends panic. here we are. some of us muslim. some of us women.  some of us middle eastern. some of us black. someone of us queer. some of us trans. some of us without u.s. citizenship. and some of us, some of us all of those things and more wrapped up in a box with oppression as the bow. all of us stunned.

it was all too much. and i folded in. i wanted to be alone. i didn't have words to put together. not for myself. not for my loved ones. i didn't have the answers and that feeling was defeating. 

when it all falls down, who you gon' call now? 

this is from one of my favorite kanye song, "all falls down" and before this week, i never found anything spectacular about that line. compared to other parts of the song, i didn't really think much of it. but this week, that part hit. it hit hard.

kanye asks a very raw and honest question. a very necessary question. when it all falls down. when you are unable to find the light in your darkness. when your depression and anxiety tags team on you. when you've reached your end. who do you call? do you have someone to call?

i have always prided myself on being a self-motivator. being self-sufficient. being able to push through by myself if i need to. confiding in others has always been difficult for me due to this toxic idea i have of what strength is and what it should look like. a toxic idea that so many of us are familiar with. we allow ourselves to crumble without reaching out. we are drowning and rather than calling for a lifeguard, we drown. 

when it all falls down, who you gon' call now? 

finally, after weeks of sitting in my grief, i made that call. i reached out to my closest friends. i allowed them to guide me. i allowed them to remind me of my worth. to speak kindness to me. i allowed them to do for me what i wasnt able to do for myself. and it was hard. it was hard to show so much of what i called weakness. hard to express things i had been so ashamed to say out-loud. but i did it. i released it all and i can't say healing came instantly, but healing is coming. it is more clear now than before i made that call. 

when it fall down, who you gon' call now? 

here i am. bearing it all in hopes that you too will make that call. and while it's so easy to become reclusive and to fold in when it gets hard, that intimacy from those who love you will help with your healing. here i am, telling you to be kind to yourself. be patient with yourself. i am telling you to do for you what you would advise those you love to do for themselves. that load is too heavy to carry alone. release it. 



Hââbré is the same word for writing / scarification” in Kô language from Burkina faso.

Scarification is the practice of performing a superficial incision in the human skin. This practice is disappearing due to the pressure of religious and state authorities, urban practices and the introduction of clothing in tribes. Nowadays, only the older people wear scarifications. During my research, all I found were pictures from the beginning of the century, and only a few contemporary images. I also had trouble finding people to photograph because of their rarity. I used Studio portraits with the same background and same lighting to portray them in a neutral kind of way.

No excuse, no judgement.

This fact leads us to question the link between past and present, and self-image depending on a given environment. Opinions (sometimes conflicting) of our witnesses illustrate the complexity of African identity today in a contemporary Africa torn between its past and its future. This “last generation” of people bearing the imprint of the past on their faces, went from being the norm and having a high social value to being somewhat “excluded”. They are slowly becoming the last generation of scarified african people, living in the same city / Abidjan. They are the last witnesses of an Africa of a bygone era. 

Joana Choumali, born in 1974, is a fine art photographer based in Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire. She studied Graphic Arts in Casablanca (Morocco) and worked as an Art Director in an advertising agency before embarking on her photography career. 

She works primarily on conceptual portraiture, mixed media and documentary. She uses her photography to explore her own identity. Much of her work focuses on Africa, and what she, as an African, is learning about the myriad cultures around her. Her work allows her to explore assumptions she has and nourishes her as she expands her conceptions of the world. 

Asmah Mansur-Williams

Asmah Mansur-Williams is a Nigerian visual creative and student living in the UK. Her works gravitates towards exploring the subconscious of her mind as evident from her intricate collages and image reimagination. She also shares with her audience her personal style which subtly seeks to break the stereotypes associated with Modest Fashion.

I got a chance to chat with Asmah about her style, being a Muslim woman and her visual work. Check out the interview below.

Bilphena: What has the process been like evolving into your own style?

Asmah: I think it has just been an evolving process for me. Not until very recently did I start noticing my style patterns and studying the business of clothes. I think understanding what clothes mean to me and how I can use a piece of clothing to create an expression has been a major factor in getting comfortable with my style.

My parents have also definitely been a huge factor in my aesthetic choice.  It's all in the little things that I never really notice. Growing up, my dad for instance, would never be seen without a crisp ironed outfit and that has unconsciously resonated in me. Now, I would never leave home without steamed clothes. It’s those simple things.

Bilphena: How do you represent yourself through your style?

Asmah: It’s actually funny because with everything else, I am very quiet and my life is almost mundane but with my clothings, there is a lot of expression going on. It's almost as if my clothings own my being and I’ve just submitted wholly to that.

I also know a lot of people expect Muslim girls to dress in a certain way and tick peculiar boxes but I knew I didn’t want to fit in that spectrum so for me expressing myself as individually as I can helps me break from that stereotype as well.

I don’t know if I’ve successfully transitioned Into my ideal style, I still think there’s a lot about myself I want to learn that will inevitably transcend into my style. My style is mine and when someone looks at me, I want it to say ’this is what I am giving you, myself through this expression’.

Bilphena: in addition to being a stylista you're also a visual creator. as the child of nigerian parents, how has the process of choosing this path been?

Asmah: I picked up  a lot of things from my parents. I don’t know if my Nigerian background has necessarily influenced my creative path but growing up with my parents definitely have. I’d actually never hinted at being a visual creator. I did love writing but that was probably about it. My mum would always say now though ‘it's always been in you’. I guess Nigeria as a culture is restricted regardless of your family background, the educational system is almost philistine and I never really discovered my innate passion for creating until I moved to the UK.

My parents are still in Nigeria so every once a while, I’ll send pictures of my works or outfits. My mum is my biggest fan, she’s always longing to see what I wear next so while I post something on Instagram, I should be sure to send one as well to her.  

I wouldn’t say I’m fully satisfied with choosing a creative path just yet. I study something completely different to the arts, a marketing course and ultimately post university, I’ve realised I’ll have to fight for my place in the creative field, so that’s still a major challenge to come.

Bilphena: What advice would you give to other children of immigrant / african parents who are straying away from being a lawyer or doctor and going into a more creative path?

Asmah: I think the most important thing is the passion- Find a medium to conveniently share your work, to engage with an audience. The biggest lesson I’m teaching myself as someone who is also building a niche creatively is to share with the world. Open up any parts of yourself you are comfortable with letting others see. Seek opportunities. Let your work teach you about yourself. Be open to vulnerability. Be honest to yourself and what you share. Forget the mere numbers. Regard the substance in the numbers. Hold on to faith at least as I am. Notice the patterns and the pieces will eventually fall in.

Bilphena:As someone who wears a hijab, how do you use your personal style to dispel common narratives about muslim women.

Asmah: I wear the Hijab and I think it's important for people to feel highly confident in their appearance. I’ve had my fair share of struggles with wearing the Hijab and dressing a certain way to fit in or making the Hijab look ‘cool’. I’ve also noticed that with a lot of other young Muslim girls, who necessarily want to make a statement about dispelling the ideals of Muslim fashion and sometimes I get really sad because all I see is girls trying too hard. You can’t blame them. A  girl walks into a room wearing a hijab and all anyone will judge on first is that piece of clothing so she tries to make herself more than the Hijab. I believe Modest fashion can be as exploratory and expressive as any other, that is my primary aim when addressing myself with my Hijab.

Bilphena: How do you navigate the stereotypes that comes with wearing a Hijab and how that may conflict with your own personal style

Asmah: People are easily judgemental when you wear the Hijab and for me dressing in an expressive way was my way to ease pass those judgements and set a pace for myself. I’m constantly seeing myself where I want to be and dressing in a certain way is slowly opening up the ideals to me.

I never want to feel like because I wear the Hijab, I am limited to opportunities. I have been limited to opportunities, whether or not it's due to my appearance is questionable. But in my own little bubble, I use clothes to set myself apart.

Bilphena: How do you think we can begin building the confidence of Muslim women who are interested in the fashion industry?

Asmah: There is a lot of confidence that comes when you wear clothings that resonates with you and for some Muslim girls, that confidence is still far fetched. Its no secret that as a Muslim girl, to get fully recognized and respected especially in the West, you need some kind of authority. My personal style is my authority.

For me, it's also about creating opportunities for Muslim girls and myself to realise dreams in any industry including fashion as far-fetched as that may seem. I am currently working on my final project in University and researching into the influence of religious identity on fashion choices, the findings of that research will hopefully be beneficial to brands in recognising Muslim girls as fashion influencers as with any other.  I’m still looking for opportunities, a million and one things are constantly running through my head in how I can create a bigger opportunity for Muslim girls to express themselves comfortably through style.

Bilphena: when you get dressed, do you have a certain story in mind that you are trying to convey or are you spontaneous in your choices?

Asmah: I’ve always had a deep feelings for cloths - fabrics, textures, I have an unhealthy desire for my clothes to speak for me and because I am quite withdrawn, I leave it all to my clothes to express all the emotions for me, poor things!

I think of clothes as a living form, I always have and I tell myself each day, what emotions do I want my clothes to convey today because I believe its more than just making a statement or clothing as a basic human need. I try to experiment a lot, each time asking myself what I want to see in a particular garment, what form I want to fabric to take. My clothing choices really depends from day to day, because I am in full time education, rushing up for a 9am or impromptu group meetings means it's a spontaneous choice but even in that spontaneity, is a lot of careful deliberation based on my emotions, I rarely leave home in something I’d rather not wear or I’m not comfortable in

I believe wholly in the saying ‘dress the way you want to addressed’, I see life as what you put on and it works for me. I’m trying hard to be my own person and my dressing reflects just that - that is my way to be addressed.

Connect with Asmah:

Instagram. The.Blackpepper




i will clapback: a black woman owning her anger

last night, i was listening to 'a seat at the table' for the thousandth time and "mad" came on. as i listened to solange sing "i got a lot to be mad about" i found myself shaking my head in agreement. yes solange, yes i do have a lot to be mad about. i am a black + african woman, i have a whole lot to be mad about. 

with that song, solange hits on a very important aspect of black womanhood. our anger. for so long the angry black woman trope has been used as a silencing tool against black women. when we are vocal about our grievances, they are diminished and seen as irrational. don't be too loud. don't be too aggressive. don't be so angry they tell us. don't clapback. black women are constantly forced to sweeten ourselves so that we are digestible. be soft they tell us. swallow this pill of oppression but make sure you smile as you do it. 

i'm here to remind black women that our anger is legitimate. we earned that anger and we must own that anger. black women are fighting racism and sexism everyday. we must fight against white women who are constantly looking to exploit our sisterhood while keeping us on the margins of feminism, we must fight against racist structures that leaves us trailing behind financially, socially and politically, we then must fight against black men who refuse to make their revolution intersectional.

black woman, clapback. 

here we are, fighting to prove our worth in our blackness but also our worth in our womanhood. this does not even take into consideration the other aspects of our identities. being a queer black woman, a trans black woman, an immigrant black woman, a black woman with disabilities, a black woman with mental health issues, a black indigenous woman. 

black woman, clapback. 

here we are,  "the most disrespected person in america. the most unprotected person in america. the most neglected person in america." and you don't expect us to be angry? 

james baldwin himself said "to be black and conscious in america, is to be in a constant state of rage." so if to be black and conscious in america is to be in a constant state of rage, what does it mean to be black and woman in america? 

i am not saying that black women should only be angry. i am not saying that we cannot work through our anger to protect our mental health. i am saying that if  black women are angry, we have a right to that anger. i am saying that we must not feed into this idea that to be angry is to be irrational. 

black women, clapback. if they come for you, clapback.

harriet tubman clapped back.

assata shakur clapped back.

ella baker clapped back.

sojourner truth clapped back.

bell hooks clapped back. 

black women have been claping back and owning our anger for years.

we got a lot to be made about. we got a right to be mad. 


Atong Atem

Atong Atem is a South Sudanese artist and writer from Bor living in Narrm Melbourne. Her work explores postcolonial practices in the diaspora, the relationship between public and private spaces and the politics of looking and being looked at.

connect with atong atem:

website | instagram

womanist readings: for black girls considering womanism because feminism is not enuf.

i was introduced to womanism my sophomore year of college. i was lucky to have a black woman who mentored + nurtured me through this learning process. i think it's important that black women + other non-black women of color understand that feminism is not the only option. there are other ideologies, politics, thoughts for us and by us. we do not have to stay on the margins of feminism. 

below i've created a short list of womanist readings that will help you understand what womanism is. 

two important things to keep in mind:

the term womanism is not interchangeable with black feminism. womanists are not seeking equality. we are seeking to deconstruct all forms of oppression. not to be equal with oppressors / men. 

happy reading loves. 

"Womanism is a social change perspective rooted in Black Women's and other women of color's everyday experiences and everyday methods of problem solving in everyday spaces, extended to the problems of ending all forms of oppression for all people. Unlike feminism, and despite its name, womanism does not emphasize or privilege gender or sexism; rather, it elevates all sites and forms of oppression, whether they are based on social-address categories like gender, race, or class, to a level of equal concern and action." - Layli Phillips

1. From womanish.  (Opp. of “girlish,” i.e. frivolous, irresponsible, not serious.)  A black feminist or feminist of color.  From the black folk expression of mothers to female children, “you acting womanish,” i.e., like a woman.  Usually referring to outrageous, audacious, courageous or willful behavior.  Wanting to know more and in greater depth than is considered “good” for one.  Interested in grown up doings.  Acting grown up.  Being grown up.  Interchangeable with another black folk expression: “You trying to be grown.”  Responsible.  In charge. Serious.
2. Also: A woman who loves other women, sexually and/or nonsexually.  Appreciates and prefers women’s culture, women’s emotional flexibility (values tears as natural counterbalance of laughter), and women’s strength.  Sometimes loves individual men, sexually and/or nonsexually.  Committed to survival and wholeness of entire people, male and female.  Not a separatist, except periodically, for health.  Traditionally a universalist, as in: “Mama, why are we brown, pink, and yellow, and our cousins are white, beige and black?” Ans. “Well, you know the colored race is just like a flower garden, with every color flower represented.”  Traditionally capable, as in: “Mama, I’m walking to Canada and I’m taking you and a bunch of other slaves with me.” Reply: “It wouldn’t be the first time.”
3. Loves music.  Loves dance.  Loves the moon. Loves the Spirit. Loves love and food and roundness.  Loves struggle. Loves the Folk.  Loves herself. Regardless.
4. Womanist is to feminist as purple is to lavender.  | Alice Walker

The Womanist Reader

Who Can Be A Womanist? | Trudy

When and Where I Enter: The Impact of Black Women on Race and Sex in America | Paula J. Giddings 

What's in a Name? Womanism, Black Feminism, and Beyond | Patricia Hill Collins

In Search of Our Mother's Gardens: Womanist Prose  | Alice Walker 

This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color

Africana Womanist Literary Theory | Clenora Hudson-Weems

Womanism and African Consciousness | Mary E. Modupe Kolawole

Yagazie Emezie's images from Liberia

Currently covering education for at risk girls in Liberia with More Than Me, an organisation that provides free education to the most vulnerable.

Along the way, I have also been documenting the historic Partnership Schools of Liberia in which government has teamed up with independent organisations to provide quality education across the country.
— yagazie emezie

you can check out more of yagazie's work via her website, instagram and tumblr. 

my skin care regimen [UPDATED]

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pictured above:

thayers rose petal witch hazel - whole food 

organic raw honey - trader joe's 

avocado oil - OK natural food store

i've been getting lots of compliments on my skin lately. lots of questions on what i use and so forth. while i'm no skin expert, i wanted to share the products i use and how i use them. i decided to take a more natural approach to my skin about a year ago and i've definitely seen an improvement. 

please keep in mind that what helps my skin may not help yours. finding the right products for your skin takes time. 

night routine:

if i'm wearing makeup,  i begin by using the oil cleansing method. i lather my face with either coconut oil or olive oil + castor oil mix.  i then soak a small towel in hot water and then wipe my face down. once all of my makeup is off, i use trader joe's organic raw honey. i wet my face first because the honey is pretty hard and solid. wetting your face makes it easier to spread. i leave the honey on for about 2-3 minute and then rinse off. after this, i lather on my black soap and rinse with cold water. i end my routine by using my witch hazel as a toner.  you can read about what witch hazel is + it's benefits here

morning routine:

i do not wash my face with any product in the morning. i simply wipe my face down with a cloth. it's important that i don't strip my face of it's natural oils and because my night routine is so extensive, there's really no need to do more in the morning. after wiping my face down, i massage avocado oil. i used to use coconut oil as a moisturizer but realized that it really didn't help my skin at all. after experimenting with several oils, i found avocado oil! it really works so well for me. i also use it as a primer before i put on my makeup. 


exfoliating your skin is so important but i must admit that i'm lazy when it comes to this. i try to exfoliate at least once a week. i use black soap (OK Natural food store) and a spinning brush

In addition, i've also added brown sugar + olive oil scrub to my exfoliating routine. i use organic brown sugar from trader joe's and mix with olive oil. make sure to use organic olive oil for this to be effective.  i apply the mix to my skin, making sure i'm gently scrubbing so that my face does not have redness from the brown sugar. i also apply this to my lips as well to exfoliate. once, i'm done i wash my face and apply my toner. 


i use bentonite clay + apple cider vinegar for my mask. i purchase the clay from MOM's organic market and the apple cider vinegar from Trader Joe's. It's really important that you are using organic raw + unfiltered apple cider for this. you simply mix the two together and apply it to your face. you then let it dry, i usually wait 15-20 minutes maybe longer if i'm doing something while it's on my face. you can literally feel this mix pulsating and working it's magic! i try to do this either once a week or bi-weekly. 


in closing, while products can help, make sure you're drinking lots of water and eating right. your diet does impact your skin. also make sure you're changing your pillowcase consistently. oils and dirt from your pillowcase can irritate your skin leading to breakouts. 

hope all of this helps, loves. 

Shannon Wallace - #BLVKBLUE series

Being black means to be strong, to be powerful, to believe and know we are the original people. And as black people it’s important we overcome the oppression against us.
Being black means constantly defining yourself in a world that wants to define you for you.
Being black means to be strong, to be powerful, to believe and know we are the original people. And as black people it’s important we overcome the oppression against us.

What does being black mean to you? This is the question Shannon Wallace is asking the subjects of her newest series #BLVBLUE.

check out her full series. 

Seydou Keïta's portraits of women

Seydou Keïta was a malian photographer who photographs portrayed bamako society during it's transition from a french colony to an independent capital. he is mostly known for his portraits of people and families he took between 1940 and early 1960s. his work is acknowledged as a record of malian society and pieces of art. 

maintaining black joy during black trauma

this week has been a tough week for me. for just about the entire black community. first we mourned alton sterling and barely 24 hours later we had to add salt to a wound we had just opened with the name philando castile. this is not taking into consideration the healing we still must do from sandra bland. from tamir rice. from rekia boyd. from mya hall. from keith davis jr. from tyrone west. from freddie gray. 

i found myself breaking down during the day. barely able to focus on my work. the names, they keep adding up. there's a hurt for each name. to be black in this country is to constantly mourn. our body. our mind. our being are constantly mourning. 

but you see. we as black people are a resilient people. we have defied the odds with our existence. we can pull strength from spaces we didn't know existed. we can pull joy. this black joy is what will keep us fighting. this black joy is necessary to our mental health. as much as we live in trauma we also must live in joy. 

when i think of black joy in the face of black trauma i think of lucille clifton saying:

come celebrate
with me that everyday
something has tried to kill me
and has failed.

black joy is: 

 "before i let go" being played at the cookout and all the older folks getting up to dance. 

it is grabbing on to whoever is next to you even if they are a stranger when "swag surfin'" comes on.

it is "premiere gaou" coming on at the african party and my mother jumping on the dance floor.

it is singing "we gon' be alright" at the protests. 

it is me twisting my hair while dancing around to sara tavares "balance"

you see. black joy has always been our secret weapon. against all odds, we have held on to our joy. without joy, this movement will not be sustained. 

with black joy comes self-care. you cannot have one without the other. we must make sure we are practicing self care consistently.

bake your favorite pie. love on your lover. get your nails done. go shopping. take a walk. take a trip to a waterfall. joy comes from self-care. 

maintaining your black joy may mean disconnecting for some time. it may mean not going to that protest. it may mean watching your favorite show instead. talking about 200 dollar dates instead. it is okay to not always be immersed in the work 24/7 in order to preserve not only your joy but your mental health. 

black joy does not mean not feeling that pain. feel it. cry it out. scream it out. do as you must to cope. then self care.  black joy is what comes after self-care. once you have healed. 

when you find yourself without joy, remember that everyday white supremacy has tried to kill our spirit and everyday it fails and because of this, we must celebrate. 

black joy is resistance. it is revolutionary. 

vibe with me



when it's time to write, it's important i create the perfect ambiance. this includes dim lights / no lights, tea, oil burning and music. music is essential because it helps me pull the emotions i need to place into a piece.

below are 10 songs on my writing list. these songs never fail to help me feel that thing i know my writing needs. happy listening and i hope you receive some inspiration or can simply vibe.

1. sara tavares | exhala

2. sara tavares | voz di vento

3. geoffrey oryema | exile

4. miriam makeba | malaika

5. black violin | dirty orchestra

6. asa | eye adaba

7. yuna | coffee

8. omotayo | lojosi

9. stevie wonder | if it's magic

10. deniece williams | free




Art Accra International Art Fair

Art Accra is a premier international art fair opening with a debut from Dec 8 – 10, 2016 in Ghana. The fair is designed to exhibit the best of art from across the globe with over 25 galleries, and a 3 day program of engaging workshops.

The fair will serve as an art economic hub attracting art collectors from both the continent and visiting from beyond Africa. In addition, Art Accra will provide an immersive experience, set on the beaches of La Palm Royal Beach Hotel in Accra.

I recently chatted with the Founder and Managing Director of Art Accra, Sharon Obuobi. 

Tell me how Art Accra came about. What was the thought process when deciding to create this?

Art Accra started from a desire to impact the world using my background in business and a passion for the arts. I had tried different avenues to pursue a career in the arts, and after realizing that I had to stop asking permission from the world and just be brave. So I began to ask myself how I would impact the world if I had the resources to do it, and that's how the idea for Art Accra came about. 

Why is Art Accra so important to the continent specifically Accra? What is it necessary that we have a global art fair like this one?

Art Accra is important because we are offering Africa the opportunity to contribute to the global art market in a bigger way. As a global art fair we are advancing the art market in West Africa, and establishing a stronger link between Accra and the globe. Many of the established African artists we know had to emigrate elsewhere to have access to more opportunities. We want to change that by serving as a connection between art collectors, dealers and artists on the continent. 

Art Accra is opening in December, what is your vision for it? what do you want people to take away from it?

Our vision is to leave a lasting impression on attendees and collectors, with an immersive experience that gives participants view into the global art landscape. For international galleries and collectors visiting Accra, we want to present the city as a tourist destination and showcase the rich cultural arts we have.

What are some of the challenges you all have faced through the planning phase?

It's been a long planning phase leading up to this point. We worked on the foundation for at least a year before publicizing and officially announcing Art Accra this May. Our challenges are what you'd expect, from logistical to financial, but it's been a great learning experience in problem solving. I expect the challenges so I don't let them keep me down. It helps that I'm passionate about this and the impact it will make.

What are the responses you've received from the community? has it been positive/negative?

It's funny, people often tell me how brave I am for creating such an "ambitious" project. But for me, there's no other way. It's worth a try. We are doing everything I can to make it happen. We have had a lot of positive feedback and it's exciting to see that the community is looking forward to our opening.

How will Art Accra impact + benefit local artists?

Art Accra will benefit local artists by giving them access to a wide range of international galleries visiting Accra to engage with collectors and influencers. It's a great opportunity to get to know these galleries and build connections. It's also an excellent chance to see the kind of work being exhibited on a global scale. Our program of panels will explore pertinent topics of discussion in the arts. So it's also a chance to ask questions and engage in critical conversations about art.

How can people participate in this and support Art Accra?

Anyone can participate by purchasing our official t shirts and tote bags to support us, particularly as we get this off the ground. We've partnered with artists Neals Niat and Dennis Osadebe to create fashionable items that you'll be proud to wear and share. 

If you're able to visit Accra or are in Accra, be sure to attend our gala and the fair. The gala will be recognizing top influencers in the arts. Follow us on social media for exciting updates on Instagram (@artaccra), Twitter (@artaccra), and Facebook (Art Accra).



hello 23, hello self-care

i recently turned 23. before my birthday, everyone kept asking "so wadaya gonna do?" i answered "eat and take friendship naps." i wasn't kidding either. to bring in my birthday i had dinner with 3 close friends, came home stuffed and was asleep by 11pm. on the day of my birthday, i enjoyed brunch at miss shirley's, came home and you know what i did? you guessed it, i slept. that evening, i had dinner and again, i came home and ding ding, i slept. but outside of sleeping, i spent a lot of my birthday in peace. reflecting on my journey, my path and planning for the next year. it was a self-care filled birthday and i truly enjoyed it. i took my time with myself. as much as i appreciated all of the messages + emails wishing me a happy birthday, i chose to slip my phone in my purse and just enjoy every moment. i chose to not tweet about what i was doing or feel the need to take pictures to prove i was having a great birthday. i showered and sang every song on "Lemonade" at the top of my lungs (i was extra loud on "don't hurt yourself.) 

i addition, i didn't reflect so much on my age but on my path. birthdays can be stressful for many.  we start thinking about others our age and where they are. they're married, you're not. they have that degree, you don't. they own a house, you don't. they're traveling around the world, you're not. all of these thoughts are so violent and keep you doubting yourself. this year, i said no to it all. i was very intentional in doing so. that's the thing about self-care you know? you have to be intentional. when i found myself slipping into those negative thoughts, i was quickly pulled out with a message from a friend saying "wow, you're 23 and already doing so much?" i smiled, put sara tavares on and took myself a nap. 

so maybe next year i will doing something more exciting? who knows. but this year, i did what my body needed. what my heart needed. 

Breya Monaye

Breya Monaye is a womanist, poetess + magazine writer, dedicated to expressions through fashion. This started when she was in the 8th grade, and would do everything imaginable to create the school uniform of her dreams. Now at 19, her go to style would be where Fran Fine & Grace Jones meet. Her everyday go to look is usually leather pants and spikes loafers, but when it's an event time, it's the bolder the better. Her strong social and political views are also expressed throughout her fashion choices which is probably why she refuses to wear a bra. Whenever she wears bright colors it to show the world there's nothing dark girls can't pull off. In addition to fashion, Breya is a health and wellness peer educator, dedicated to mental illness and emotional wellbeing advocacy, primarily for black/African women. 

I asked Breya a few questions about her style. Read what she said below. 

How do you decided what to wear in the morning? Are you spontaneous or are you a planner?

Breya: For my morning, i'm 100% spontaneous, that's where all the fun is. For events, I plan. Usually, it's by what part of my body I want to bring out, what look i'm going for and most importantly, how I want to feel. 

Where do you draw inspo for your outfits? 

My favorite style inspirations are Kendall Jenner, Mary Kate & Ashley, Nicole Richie, Leandra Medine and so many more. As far as bloggers, It would be @thegreylayers and @prettysickly. 

Describe your style using one word

Breya: Minimalistic 

What's currently your favorite piece in your closet?

Breya: My favorite piece is my Zara fur scarf. It's bold and adds fun to my boring outfits. 

connect with Breya via instagram