2020 took more than it gave, shook more than it soothed, and damaged more than it healed. But in the debris left behind in its hellscape, embers of hope flickered. In June, after George Floyd was killed by police, a worldwide racial reckoning emerged in the form of protests, followed by companies (including this one) being held accountable for their mistreatment of Black employees. It seemed like — finally — a global acknowledgment that systemic anti-Black racism is real and must be dealt with was underway.
Aside from this long overdue enlightenment being born from our trauma, it inspired sentiments I hope we don’t leave behind in 2020, like Listen To Black Women. Not to be confused with another often overused refrain: Black Women Will Save Us. We’re not token saviours, and we’re not here to do the work for white people. Last year, supposed “allies” vowed to put in their own work. My biggest fear is that 2020 amounts to nothing more than another broken promise. So, in 2021, I’m demanding that the world keeps the same energy it claimed to have for Black women this past year.
We were going through it. We experienced heartbreak, exhaustion, career wins and losses— just like in any other year— but we had to do it while the world burned, and in the middle of a pandemic that was disproportionately killing us. And still, we showed up.
As bestselling author Angie Thomas stated to me over Zoom after the election, “We just saved America from its damn self… Let’s take that same power and use it for ourselves and our goals and our dreams.” Now, it’s time to leave behind the chaos of last year and move into 2021 owning the power we were promised in 2020.
To start the year off right, we decided to call up five Black women for a vibe check: Thomas; The Shade Room founder and powerhouse entrepreneur Angelica Nwandu; outspoken actress Aurora Perrineau; Instagram wellness guru Alex Elle; and Shennari Freeman, a chef living out her dream job in the depth of a crisis in the service industry. These women each bring unique perspectives as we come off a landmark year — professionally, personally and politically.
Here’s what they are leaving in 2020, and what they’re demanding from 2021.
Author, Concrete Rose
What I’m leaving behind in 2020: In the past, I’ve felt like I could only write one type of story, about young Black kids dealing with realistic things. I’m leaving that in 2020. I’m literally working on a fantasy book right now. This is my foray into creating a world that I wish I would have had as a young person, where young kids aren’t worried about police officers or poverty or racism. They’re worried about magic. As a writer, and as a Black woman in general, I’m allowing myself to step out of my comfort zone by looking at the world the same way a white man does and saying that there are no limits to what I can and cannot do. My word for 2021 is freedom. I want freedom to exist, and freedom to create as a Black woman. I’m no longer allowing myself to be boxed in the way I’ve been in 2020. I’m leaving comfort zones behind in 2020.
I wish that the world would start treating Black women the way Black women have treated the world.
What I’m demanding from the world in 2021: For years I entered spaces and I questioned whether I was supposed to be there, but now I have an appreciation for all of those spaces that I was in. There are no spaces where I do not belong. If I’m there, I belong there. [The Hate U Give] has been on the New York Times [best seller] list for almost four years now. How dare I question anything? It’s like, Listen there, you got a power within you, girl. Own that and be cool with that. That’s not an arrogant thing. That’s just being confident, In 2021, I’m asking myself Why don’t you walk in that power? I want all the ancestor’s power to find itself in me in 2021.
What the world needs to give Black women: I wish that the world would start treating Black women the way Black women have treated the world. We’re always coming in and saving the day. But when is everybody going to make things better for us? I wish the world would give us the same love back that we give it because we do so much in so many different ways. You want Black women to save the day? Well, damn it, you need to start doing things so that Black women don’t have to save the day.
Actress, Prodigal Son
New York, NY
My lowest moment of 2020: Breaking up with my ex-boyfriend. We broke up in February because when I was here shooting in New York, he [cheated on me] in the house that I had just bought for us in LA. It was my first place I’d ever bought. It was very, very, very painful. And then we went into lockdown and I was just like, Oh my God. I had to sit with all of these thoughts and try to figure out how to understand it all. Then George Floyd was murdered and the Black Lives Matter movement exploded again. At first, [going to protests and speaking out] felt really empowering. And then there was a day where I broke down crying. I felt so helpless for our community. It was just very hard to wrap my head around all of it happening at the same time.
I’m demanding to be understood and to be heard. Take me at my word. Believe what I say.
What I’m leaving behind in 2020: I’m done explaining things to intolerant people. Those conversations were very difficult. After you explain that “this is what I mean when I say BLM, and this is what I feel” and it continues to still be an issue, it feels that they don’t want to understand. I was just like, I’m done having these conversations. Also, a lot of what I wasn’t getting in 2020 was understanding, especially when it came to the fact that Black women are believed at a lesser rate about rape or any sexual abuse. [I shared my story of sexual assault in 2017] and I’m still explaining to people that, if you believe me, shouldn’t you be believing these other women? And they’re like, “Well, of course I believe you because I know you.” If you fit a certain mould, people believe a certain thing and to them I fit a mould. I have to leave that behind. If you don’t believe all women, if you don’t respect all women, especially Black women, I just can’t anymore.
What I’m demanding from the world in 2021: I’m demanding to be understood and to be heard. Take me at my word. Believe what I say. I’m demanding equality. There are so many artists that aren’t getting the opportunities they should be because of the colour of their skin. I don’t think that’s an option anymore. In June and July 2020, it was an explosion of, Oh wow, people are really going to let us do what we should be doing. I think it’ll be interesting to see if that actually happens in 2021. I also know for darker skinned women, it’s a whole different field and it is way more difficult. I’m demanding change in 2021.
Author and Wellness Consultant
What 2020 taught me: I have a family of five—my three kids, my husband and myself— and when we realised we were going to be home for the duration of the year, doing Zoom school with our oldest and tending to our little ones in a new way because of the pandemic, I decided that I needed to be more intentional about how I was showing up for myself during this time, especially as a Black mother and a Black wife. I figured out fairly quickly that on the days that I’m not paying attention to my body, or I’m not eating well, or I’m not getting outside, or I’m not tuned into my meditation, I’m not my best. I know I need to pencil myself in, just like I pencil in the kids’ activities, my work meetings, and phone calls. I’m really fortunate to be able to be home with my husband, who also works from home. Right now, we’ve been exploring how to name what we need to each other so that we can fill our cups up and then come back better than before.
I’m leaving behind any excuses that keep me away from being my best self.
What I’m leaving behind in 2020: I’m leaving behind any excuses that keep me away from being my best self. I am leaving behind blurry boundaries and one-sided relationships, both personally and professionally. I’m leaving behind self-doubt, self-sabotage, shame, and not exploring my vulnerability. I’m leaving behind behaviours that don’t uplift and elevate the woman that I am and the woman I want to continue growing into.
What I’m demanding from the world in 2021: I’m demanding that people link self-care with community care. I think it’s really important that folks understand that self-care isn’t just this thing that we do for ourselves. It is something that we also do to serve our community and to show up in our roles — be it in our partnerships, our relationships, and our work lives — as our fullest and most intentional self, versus showing up depleted and empty still thinking we’re going to get positive results.
Executive Chef at Cadence
My hesitation celebrating wins in 2020: You couldn’t tell me in August that I would be opening a restaurant as an executive chef. This was not planned at all. I applied to the company as a chef, but there wasn’t a position available at the time. And once I kind of got my foot in the door [in another position], the management team wanted to pick my brain about a concept for a space that they had available. I said, “You know, I’m the only Black chef in your company and I don’t see any vegan soul food.” I’m from the South. So, it just seemed like the perfect fit. Sometimes I don’t even feel right celebrating it, but I have to celebrate myself and I have to celebrate my accomplishments despite everything that’s happening this year. We need something to look forward to and to be happy about. For me, it’s my job.
A lot of people [in the service industry] lost their jobs, a lot of people are struggling. For the people who didn’t, it’s our job to give back and reach out to our community to help out.
What I’m leaving behind in 2020: Being silent, which is something that’s very common in my industry and with the expectations put on Black women. But I’m definitely trying to be more vocal in 2021. Also, it’s a pandemic. A lot of people [in the service industry] lost their jobs, a lot of people are struggling. For the people who didn’t, it’s our job to give back and reach out to our community to help out.
What I’m demanding from the world in 2021: I want to see more Black women owning and running restaurants. A lot of times we are left out of the conversation. This industry is a white male-dominated industry. I’m from Virginia, and when I see a lot of Southern chefs and Southern cuisines, we’re always left out of the conversation. It’s time to speak up and show out.
Founder and CEO of The Shade Room
Los Angeles, California
On turning 30 in a pandemic: The first half of 2020, I was depressed. I was turning 30 and I had all these expectations. I was like, Well, at 30, I always saw myself doing this. I was in a relationship headed towards marriage and in 2020 that broke apart. Leading up to my birthday, I thought, Okay, there’s no way I’m going to have a baby and get married in two months. I had to face that realisation that what I had pictured for myself was not going to happen. Once my birthday hit, it was like a rebirth. I let go of it all because it was gone. The picture didn’t happen. And it was one of the most freeing feelings. I could’ve gotten married this year, but if I didn’t have self love, it wouldn’t even have been good. I did get married this year — to myself.
What I’m leaving behind in 2020: A bad work-life balance. This year forced me to sit down and to really be present, not just with work, but with family and with friends, and to be grateful. Every month that we get through 2020, we all feel more grateful because of how many people that were lost this year.
I could’ve gotten married this year, but if I didn’t have self love, it wouldn’t even have been good. I did get married this year — to myself.
ANGELICA “ANGIE” NWANDU
What I’m demanding from the world in 2021: I don’t have the power to demand anything from the world. As a Black woman, the world doesn’t move under my beat. But I would love to see the world have more love and more unity. And I feel like we’re already moving in that direction. I think Black women really shined in 2020 in so many ways. We’ve proven ourselves over and over again. We advocate for everybody. We just need people to listen and treat us with the same amount of respect that they give to a white woman or a white man. If that happened, I think the world would change. Honestly.
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