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I recently received an email from a young woman of color and a recent college graduate. She contacted me to ask if I could point her in the direction of women of color organizations in her area that are open to having volunteers, as the organizations she’s already contacted currently do not have any volunteer opportunities. She shared with me that, being a recent college graduate, Latina, and the first of her family to attend college, she has a passion to give back to her community and to empower others.
What heightened my interest in her email was that she mentioned that she was an active member of a women of color group on her college campus. She described the campus group as a multi-generational safe space for women of color on campus, which meets monthly. The monthly gathering, complete with food and fellowship, invites current students and staff to share experiences and advice over a chosen topic of the month (spiritual wellness, intellectual wellness, environmental wellness, among others.) Her group has also hosted a woman of color retreat on campus as well as a gala to recognize the many contributions of the women of color on campus.
I responded back to her, letting her know that I will look into women of color organizations in her area, but I also gave her the suggestion of creating a similar supportive group based on her campus group. Here in New York City, I am part of the New York City Reproductive Justice Coalition. We meet once a month to discuss what’s happening locally and nationally around reproductive justice and women and girls of color. What we’re currently doing every month sounds very similar to what her campus does: We connect, inform, enlighten, strategize, and fellowship.
The need for more spaces for women and girls of color to grow, connect, and be affirmed in a world that tells us that we’re in the minority is crucial. Instead of it being a matter of chance, women and girls of color spaces need to be a given, a space where women and girls of color are mentored and supported by peers who have their best interest in mind. In a perfect world, there would be no need for spaces like these. Until then, the more spaces we have that tell women and girls like us that we matter, the more likely we will be able to step up and pay it forward.
Are you interested in starting a space for women and girls of color in your community or on campus? Here are a few ideas to get you started:
Begin with the end in mind– What’s the bigger picture? What do you want your space to be for women and girls of color? What are you hoping to achieve? Are you creating this space to be temporary or permanent? What do you see your group doing within the next year, or even 5 years? You may not have this information until you connect with other women and girls of color to speak more about it.
Get focused– The clearer your purpose is, the better. Are you going to focus on something in particular (mental health wellness, physical fitness, reproductive justice, relationships, etc.) or will your space’s focus be based on open ideas of the women and girls you want to attract to your group?
Seek out a space– Places of worship, campus classrooms, offices, and group members’ homes are some spaces to consider. Keep in mind that wherever you decide to hold your affirming space, it needs to be accessible to get to. Is it near public transportation for young women who may have have driver’s licenses, or for adults who may not have a car? Is there a ramp for a individual in a wheelchair to easily navigate? Also, keep in mind that many office spaces require prior approval and perhaps a staff member who would be willing to stay after office hours in order for you to have your affirming space.
…Or consider other ways to meet– Do you Skype? Use Google+ hangouts? Have a free conference call number? These are other ways to meet up. Sure, being in each other’s presence is more worthwhile, but there may be times in which meeting up may not be possible. Consider other means on connecting.
Think of logistics– Based on the audience that you want to join your affirming space, think about when would be the best time to meet. If you’re on a campus, it may be more beneficial to meet after classes end. If you’re a working parent, consider meeting on the weekends (and consider bringing along your children as well).
Make sure everyone is involved– Affirming spaces only work if everyone is willing and ready to make it work. There are going to be individuals who will be more able to participate, and individuals who won’t be able to attend every meeting due to scheduling conflicts. Consider having a core group of individuals to aid in the planning of your meetings, and make sure everyone has a voice in what takes places in your affirming space.
Get organized– How often do you plan to meet? Once a month, every other week? Try meeting around the same time (i.e., the second Tuesday of every month) in order to create consistency.
Get permission– This is primarily if you’re wanting to create a women of color group in your school or on campus. Most offices of student activities require that you submit an application and group description for your group to be given official campus status for the following semester or school year. Make sure you gather all information (focus of your group, group leaders, who your group advisor will be, etc.) and submit it along with your application by the office of student activities’ deadline.
Gather support– Support can be in the form of money, invitations to be more visible in the community and on campus, and donations for food an beverages for your gatherings. Getting the support from outside entities can create the opportunity to present your affirming space to local organizations who are looking for similar groups to collaborate with on projects, events, and programs.
Be economically savvy– Seek donations from individuals and organizations to help in buying supplies for any events you want to have, or for food for your gathering. Can’t afford to buy food for every gathering, but you have plenty of food at home? Consider having a potluck. Potlucks are more fun anyway.
I’ve been fortunate to have been encouraged and invited to be in several affirming spaces as a young woman of color, and I continue to seek out those spaces now. Despite the reasoning for the affirming spaces, they all had several things in common: They were created to encourage women and girls of color, empower them to find their voice, and develop meaningful connections and lasting friendships. You begin to care for the wellbeing of your group members and you want them to succeed in wherever life takes them.The most important thing in creating an affirming space is to remember this: You’re not alone. If you’re worried that others will not be interested in your efforts, definitely think again. You never know what will happen.