It is with unspeakable delight that I present MAD Free: Liberating Conversations About Our Image, Beauty and Power to EBONY.com. We are taking our conversation global, connecting and claiming our freedom with as many sisters and interested people as possible. Each week during Women’s History Month, we’ll show key segments of the live conversations focusing on image, beauty and power. Please help increase its potency by including your comments, activating your freedom voice. MAD Free befittingly begins with the game changer conversation with the brave, beautiful, baad ass Beverly Bond, founder of Black Girls Rock!. Welcome to the conversation. [scroll down for video]
Two days. I wandered around my loft in a silk eggshell colored slip.
I wasn’t lost. I was looking. Looking for the girls. For nearly two years I woke and worked for them, “the girls.” Being the Fashion Director and, in 2004, ultimately Editor in Chief of Honey magazine was a dream job in what was already a charmed career. I loved everything about it because it was all about the girls. The urban, sexy, stylish, smart 18-34 year old sisters who were shaping pop culture with no true mainstream mirror, no real national recognition. Honey was the one magazine that got it, it got us—the girls—the invisible, invincible beautiful ones.
When Honey was abruptly gone, however, her voice in me also fled, it hid, it too was gone. And so I wandered for two straight days. I was a broken heart in designer lingerie aimlessly walking through my own apartment trying to make sense of it all. I’d never walked nor wandered over losing a man, but this was a committed love for a million beauties.
Having been at Honey, Essence and on some strategic TV shows, I was one of the growing tribe of “negro recognizables.” I often spoke out about the beauty, power and image injustice of “the girls.” I was fast-becoming an Image Activist, though I hadn’t defined myself publicly as that…yet. It didn’t hurt I have a sizable blonde air-fro floating atop a 5’10, size 10 (shoes and skirt), extra light-skinned frame. I was hard to miss, not to easy to forget.
Then they started to appear. The girls.
They would stop me on the street, in the subway, they’d hunt me down through email, asking me to mentor them, talk to them, just have a coffee, please. One at a time, each one smarter, more stylish, more hungry than the next—the girls were coming to find me, coming to heal me. Nearly a year after HONEY, I started gathering with these young sisters at my place, and we talked about careers, fears, passions and projects. Me and the girls were finally in conversation again, and I not only healed, I began to shine. And so Salon du Shine was born, a monthly mentoring salon. I invited accomplished women of color and purpose to come and share with me and the girls. The style sensations, the surgeons, the politicians, the lawyers, the journalists, the doctors, the philanthropists, the teachers, the executives came. June Ambrose, Edris Nichols, Lola Ogunnaike, Dr. Shirley Madhere, Marvet Britto, Deputy Borough President Rose Pierre-Louis, Shola Lynch, Dr. Rosemarie Ingleton, Tai Beauchamp, Susan Akkad, Bevy Smith, Bethann Hardison and more—they came and we had liberating exchanges.
This was the healing, not just for me, but for all in attendance. A multi-generational conversation between women whose goal was to make meaning out of the complicated and crazy issues facing women of color, and in so doing, to create meaningful connections. By intimately, safely, and honestly, sharing our stories we increased our possibilities. It was so simple and so powerful. This was it.
And this is what we do now. We expand the narrow narratives and images of Black women through liberating conversations with extraordinary women and the community. Black women with freedom of thought are the healing. We are the liberation. I heard once, it’s hard to be what you can’t see. So I elevated Salon du Shine—our loving, revolutionary collective movement of thought—to bigger platforms so more can bear witness and participate in what were once critical conversations relegated to my home.
I started where the love affair began, Honey magazine, whose motto was “FREE THE GIRLS” so brilliantly claimed by the original creators/editors Kierna Mayo (now Editorial Director of this very site) and her partner Joicelyn Dingle. I had the first of this conversation series with DJ Beverly Bond, founder of Black Girls Rock!, after which I realized in the decade that had passed from the battle cry of “FREE THE GIRLS,” even with no spot to call our own, we had discovered something—we are free. The voice of the girls—we had it, we always had it, we just didn’t let her all the way out. Now we have to reinforce it, often. We have to say it with as much repetition and vigor as all the delusional, deviant and deformed messages about Black women. We have to say it and show it, often. The girls are free. The girls are free. The girls are MAD Free.
I’d like give a most special thank you to the most distinguished former Editors in Chief of Honey magazine: Amy DuBois Barnett the Honey who hired me, now the Editor in Chief of EBONY magazine and Kierna Mayo (formerly noted). Life is so much sweeter when sisters can find a way to stick together.