#BlackGirlMagic to Black Woman Magnificence: The Melanated Millennial Guide to Community
Black women are one of the most significant pillars of our community. And who else got Black women like other Black women? Connecting with other Black women and femmes is vital to developing and understanding one’s identity. Nevertheless, building this sisterhood proves difficult for those raised in predominantly white spaces or who grew up without many Black girls and women in their families. As a result, building a strong community of Black women usually involved some sleuthing — clubs, bars, church, and block parties. Nowadays, community is pretty accessible: you can build connections with other Black women and femmes through social media like Instagram or Twitter. However, to explore the concept of community building, I wanted to consult the millennial generation of Black women, who spent their youth mostly devoid of social media, from their perspective. How did millennial Black women seek out community?
Heather Joseph graduated from SUNY Binghampton, pledged to the historic Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority during grad school, and is one of the most passionate, assiduous Black women I know. For those unaware, Alpha Kappa Alpha, often abbreviated as “AKA,” was the first intercollegiate historically African-American sorority founded in 1908 at Howard University. Notable members include Vice President Kamala Harris, Phylicia Rashad (The Cosby Show), activist Bernice King, and Tiffany from Insecure (IYKYK). In technical terms, Heather is my second cousin; her mother is my grandmother’s sister. However, due to my fraught relationship with my mother, she was often a surrogate mom to me. My mother is flawed, and unfortunately, because of this, I was often unintentionally neglected. So Heather often picked up the pieces my mother left broken, particularly regarding my college application process.
Growing up, I observed that my mother had little to no social life, as she was burdened with being a single mother and a steady yet hectic career as a nurse. In contrast, Heather has held down a number of jobs within my lifetime and maintains a vast social network, primarily made up of other Black women. For as long as I can remember, it mystified me how she could “have it all,” or at least seem like it. Whenever I struggled with my friendships, I went straight to Heather because to me, she was the blueprint. Now that I’m older with a better grasp of nuance and reality, I understand she didn’t “have it all” but rather watered and tended to her garden with decisive intention. She had a community I dreamed of emulating with other lesbians and queer women of color. She showed up for her people constantly and by no means could ever be accused of being a bad friend. So, she was the first person I thought of when I conceived the idea for this piece.
Did you go to an HBCU or a PWI? How did they impact seeking connections with other Black women?
HJ: I went to a PWI in upstate NY. I went in already knowing my roommate, a Caribbean American Black girl from my HS. She helped introduce me to friends I still have.
How did going to a PWI impact your college experience and relationship with AKA?
HJ: Even though I didn’t join my sorority at my PWI college, other Black sororities stood out for what they did and the sisterhood bonds they created for their members, which was great for them — and for me to see — seeing women come together and under one umbrella organization is inspiring. And while at a PWI, you tend to know the other women who look like you. And while they weren’t all my friends, mutual understanding and respect existed.
What motivated you to join AKA? What’s kept you motivated to continue that legacy?
HJ: There’s a fierce sisterhood that exists. It’s being bonded with women worldwide with a dedication to the mission of AKA. AKA came into my life when I was looking for bonds and feelings of belonging. I was enamored with what the idea of a sorority was/is, and it helped me to see myself in a way I hadn’t thought [of] before.
How did being in a sorority shape your coming of age, particularly your Black womanhood?
HJ: Being connected to women leaders in their communities across industries creates pride and belonging. More often than not, being a member allowed me greater access, conversation, and connection. Membership in Alpha Kappa Alpha has helped me develop relationships with women from all walks of life that I might not have connected with--which in turn helped me be a better friend, worker, and sister. Regarding my Black womanhood, I couldn't think of better examples of women to emulate, which is not exclusive to my organization. Still, women in BGLOs (Black Greek Lettered Organizations) have been movers and shakers since their founding. My sorority sisters are still shaping my womanhood. I would like to note that my relationships with Black women are not contingent solely on our shared membership. I am truly fortunate to have women friends who are not members in my organization or any other but have helped enhance all relationships.
What do you think about the Gen Z generation of Black women?
HJ: I think Gen Z Black women have a lot of guts and opportunities to be free-spirited in ways previous generations did not. Women of my generation are a mix of traditional values and the values we want our daughters and granddaughters to have, and the values we wish our mothers/grandmothers/elders could practice, even if some embodied them. GenZ women can take the chances we didn't or couldn't with little to no consequence. I do believe that my generation has helped encourage Gen Z women to ask the questions, tell the truth, and speak with their loud voices. That free-spiritedness takes on its own life, and it's beautiful to see. Gen Z women are likelier to say, "Why not me?" than "Why me?" Self-expression comes earlier from clothes to identity, careers, and education.
If you could write your younger self a letter, what would you tell her?
HJ: Try new things. Use your voice. People are watching and listening, so take advantage of that. Do it [even if you’re] scared… because you aren’t promised anything but to make memories.
When you become a mother, how will you encourage your daughter(s) to form connections with other Black girls? Is there anything you did that you’d want them/her to do differently? Would you encourage your daughter to pursue a sorority sisterhood?
HJ: I encourage young Black women to take charge of what they want. Don’t be afraid to show up as authentic “you,” but don’t give it all away. Reserve some of yourself because people will try to take advantage of you. When I become a mother, I’m absolutely telling [my daughter] to join a BGLO (Black Greek-lettered Organization). She can join any sorority she wants, but I’m only paying for one. But I would encourage her because there does exist something that transcends common experiences and a bond that is recognizable to those who are members.
I used to think the lack of community in my life was somehow my fault and that I wasn’t trying hard enough. Because it seemed so easy to Heather, why couldn’t I be as magnetic? However, there were more factors at play: our generation struggles to connect sometimes because we’re used to hiding behind phone screens and group chats. We can be emotionally unavailable in a whole new way, discouraging building bonds and community. We take our easy access for granted; it’s right at our disposal, yet we find it difficult to utilize it properly. Millennials had no choice but to put in the work to craft those treasured connections. When I see Heather and her friends get together, I witness that fierce sisterhood up close. And it’s a beautiful, warm, enchanting thing I eventually found through Twitter and social apps for LGBTQ people like Lex.
As a commuting undergrad film and television major at NYU, having a substantial social life was nearly impossible, so I couldn’t pledge to a sorority. And frankly, I’m not sure I could’ve found community as easily. My queerness impacts how comfortable I feel with others, and I haven’t heard much about the lesbian soror’s perspective. I didn’t even learn of lesbian-friendly sororities until I finished college. And even if I had, many of these sororities – such as Alpha Lambda Zeta (for masculine-identifying lesbians) and Alpha Pi Delta (for lesbians of color) – don’t have chapters in New York. This isn’t to say there aren’t any AKA lesbians, because we’re everywhere, but their voices aren’t amplified. And the Black community isn’t exactly known for its queer acceptance. Nevertheless, this doesn’t nullify AKA’s impact on Black women like Heather. Sororities like AKA, Gamma Phi Delta, and Sigma Gamma Rho have and continue to provide safe spaces for Black women to express themselves and forge sisterhood and community. I believe they can – and have – offer the same for Gen Z Black women and femmes.
Edited by: Ava Emilione
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