INTERVIEW BY LISA MARIE BASILE
LISA MARIE BASILE: I love to hear about women creating amazing communities and making a space for voices that aren’t always provided a platform in mainstream media. Can you tell us a little about Spoken Black Girl?
ROWANA ABBENSETTS: Spoken Black Girl started out as my own little space on the internet to talk about struggles with anxiety and depression. During my lowest points in life, I felt completely alone and I wanted to create a space where I could discuss mental health freely and without stigma. I was amazed by the support that I received from my growing community of readers and fellow bloggers. Since then Spoken Black Girl has transformed into an online publication open to all women of color.
LISA MARIE BASILE: What sort of vacancy did you see in the digital media landscape that spurred the creation of SBG?
ROWANA ABBENSETTS: There aren’t many publications dedicated to true holistic healing for women of color; by that I mean not only covering yoga and meditation, but allowing for women of color to explore mental and emotional healing from mental illness and or trauma. In the Black community, for example, the stigma of mental illness and mental health is strong. Black women are taught to be strong and to hide our pain and vulnerabilities.
This problem of stigma is reflected in the limited or warped focus on mental health that we see in popular publications. Mental health is often a passing topic that popular culture would suggest can be remedied by spa trips and candles. The truth is, the conversation is much deeper than that. Women of color need to heal, mind, body, and soul, in order to continue building together.
LISA MARIE BASILE: I have learned so much from the content SBG has published, and I really appreciate the words I’ve read. Diversity and inclusivity is so important to SBG—I know how marginalized voices have been silenced or reduced. What is your goal with SBG, to confront and disrupt that?
ROWANA ABBENSETTS: It’s important to empower young, marginalized writers. I know that for women of color in particular, it’s easy to become discouraged. The world is always telling us that our stories don’t matter, that out skills aren’t good enough, and that we are somehow encroaching on a traditionally white, male space. This is not true, but there are many that think this way, evidenced by the severe lack of representation among women of color in the publishing industry. At SBG, we take our time to work with writers and help them develop their skills and grow as writers. We want writers to gain confidence by sharing their stories with a supportive community that sees the value of marginalized voices.
LISA MARIE BASILE: What sort of message would you like to send to potential contributors and readers alike?
ROWANA ABBENSETTS: Have an open heart and an open mind. Spoken Black Girl is a platform that values and respects vulnerability. I feel privileged to be able to publish deeply personal stories of growth, so it’s important to me that we all show each other love and support as a community of readers and writers.
LISA MARIE BASILE: I always find that engaging readers and fans is probably one of the hardest and yet most important aspects of running a publication. How can new readers support SBG and its authors—and how do you want to support your readers?
ROWANA ABBENSETTS: To our readers, I encourage you to share and show love in whatever way feels right to you. We plan on having more events, so I would definitely encourage our supporters to participate in all of our events and initiatives. Our ultimate goal is to be able to pay writers at market rate so we can do even more to improve the lives of WOC writers.
SBG will continue to support its readers by helping them explore their own growth journeys, whether it’s through powerful content, events, workshops or challenges. We’re more than a publication, we’re a community, and we’re constantly striving to add value to the lives of our community members.
LISA MARIE BASILE: Something I find really interesting about the digital landscape is that people WANT to share their stories. Where that maybe used to be called ‘weak,’ it’s now strong and I love that. There’s a focus on well-being and healing from trauma at SBG. How did you come upon that focus?
ROWANA ABBENSETTS: When it comes to mental health, a lot of women, in particular women of color, have experienced trauma that has impacted their mental health. Of course, there are many women who begin their exploration of mental health having struggled specifically with anxiety, depression, bipolar or other mental illnesses. It’s often impossible to tease mental health away from trauma, especially because marginalized women experience sexism, racism, and homophobia as a fact of life, and those microaggressions often amount to trauma. We also deal with generational trauma, having absorbed the pain and fears of our mothers and grandmothers. Heal one woman and you heal all those that came before her.
LISA MARIE BASILE: What sort of submissions are you looking for?
ROWANA ABBENSETTS: We’re looking for authentic, uplifting voices. I like submissions that are informative and clear, but reads like advice between girlfriends.
LISA MARIE BASILE: You talk about the transformation from SBG the blog to the magazine in your piece, “How to Step Into Your Season of Transformation.” What is SO good about this piece is that you straight up outline the reasons people don’t always move forward with their dreams. They’re afraid, or they have no confidence, or they haven’t found a way to set themselves free. Can you talk a little more about that and how people can tap into their ability to transform.
ROWANA ABBENSETTS: At a certain point in life, you have to let go of worrying about what everyone else thinks and listen to your intuition. Tap into what you want. Women in particular spend too much time sacrificing our own mental health and well-being out of a sense of obligation or duty to others. We’re so preoccupied with what we should be doing that we rarely pause to ask ourselves what we really want. I always find that the more honest I am with myself, the more likely I am to manifest the changes I want to see. My suggestion is to start with deep, personal reflection. Find the tools that will help you achieve this, whether it’s journaling, meditation or prayer. Discover the best way for you to reconnect with your innermost self.
Rowana Abbensetts started Spoken Black Girl in the spring of 2015 as a personal blog about her own struggles with anxiety and depression hoping to find other women of color who could relate. Two years later, realizing that women of color lacked a centralized place to share their mental and emotional journeys, Rowana decided to turn the blog into what is now Spoken Black Girl Magazine.