Dunia Nur, one of our WAVE committee members, wrote this piece as a dedication to individuals who don’t come from privilege, yet consistently volunteer and advocate for positive change in their communities. Dunia describes herself as a young woman of colour who actively works with many disenfranchised communities, and an individual who is resilient, hospitable and from a marginalized community herself. She’s written this piece so other people like her do not burn out and can continue contributing to the important work they are needed for.
1. It’s okay to say no
“The wounded heart learns self-love by first overcoming low self-esteem.” — bell hooks
Have you ever been in a situation where you were asked to volunteer for an event, lead a project or coordinate a conference? Presumably, the conversation doesn’t start with, “how are you?” But rather, “could you?” You find yourself committing to too many tasks and wonder why you’re exhausted and easily overwhelmed. Saying no is much more difficult than saying yes. To say yes is easier on the tongue and makes one feel needed, while saying no requires reflectivity and confidence. Reflectivity assists you to evaluate your personal capacity and current situation of your own ability to be involved and committed to a project. Confidence allows you to be appreciative, not only of your skills, but also limitations and to not fear the consequences of saying no by expressing your needs in a healthy manner. Unfortunately, setting these boundaries does not come easy for black women. This is nothing but the result of the multi-generational violence of psychological warfare by reducing black women’s worth and subjecting us to many forms of strategic disempowerment in the form of dehumanization.
2. Self-love is the greatest activism
Black women are disproportionately affected by heart disease, mental health disorders and ‘‘our breast cancer is caught later and we are more likely to die from it’’ (National Black Women’s Health Project Book). Be kind to yourself. Prioritizing your well-being is not a selfish act but rather selfless practice. We often unconsciously or deliberately self-sabotage. We may take on a task that surpasses our ability, while neglecting our own health, family commitment, and personal responsibilities. The consequence of neglecting such responsibilities is toxic stress. Toxic stress can weaken brain development, lead to mental health disorders, cardiac and nervous system failure. I learn to practice self-love by respecting what my body is telling me. If you’re tired, overwhelmed, or fatigued, this is your body’s form of communication. Listen. I learned to listen to my body by unpacking my experienced traumas, because the essence of trauma is a disconnection from yourself. Eating nutritious food, drinking plenty of water, exercising, sleeping and avoiding negative people who come with negative energy are ways I have learned to respect and listen to my body.
3. What are your needs – Don’t be shy because you’re worth it!
‘‘One of the best guides to how to be self-loving is to give ourselves the love we are often dreaming about receiving from others’’ – bell hooks
Women of color are typically seen as ‘‘strong black women.’’ The danger in such rhetoric is that it deprives us of our basic human need and quality of care. We need and are worthy of love, respect, supports, and compassion
. I personally don’t want to be one who can endure pain, rather one who can overcome and adapt to challenging stresses through family and community support. I am worth it, and to experience love and be protected from abuse is my fundamental right. Such restatement decolonizes our minds and highlights the danger within the notion of black women’s bodies enduring pain in all forms of abuses. It is important to be reflective by examining your needs and triggers, which allows you to explore your emotional reactions based on your reality.
4. Honor your emotional and intellectual labour
Your story is sacred, your well-being is important, your lived experience is a gift to your wisdom and it should all be protected from exploitation because it is your intellectual property. Typically, in certain community organizations, it is often individuals are targeted for their enthusiasm, youthism and are likely to be tokenized. This is very common in communities experiencing deprivation of resources and structural violence. Here are so
me signs you are being robbed of your emotional and intellectual labour:
- You’re being asked to share your story but it is being written by someone else in a way that benefits their platform
- The personal wounds you express while sharing these stories is not supporting a greater cause, rather retraumatizing you and legitimizing someone’s funding for a project
- You receive no follow-up or resources after sharing your stories or ideas
- You are a contributor of many brilliant ideas, yet you see no transparency nor inclusivity except an implementation of your recommendation to a group that is not in need of such intervention
- When you seek accountability and transparency, you are co-opted by being offered membership to that organization
- The relationship is not mutual. You are the giver and you’re surrounded by takers
- You are a threat to individuals who are career hungry and in turn, experience lateral violence from your own community
- Resources are not distributed equally. You are the last to know of employment or training opportunities, yet your ideas, time and contribution is expected
5. Purpose, Routine & Structure
‘‘We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then is not an act but a habit.” — Aristotle
To ensure we safeguard our spiritual, emotional, intellectual and physical well-being we need to examine our intentions behind the work we do, how we do it, and if we do it with integrity and purpose. Purpose defines your practice and questions your intentionality, it helps you process your emotions by holding yourself accountable and gives you the bigger picture so nothing diverts your attention. Purpose allows you to analyze your circles and what needs these circles meet for you. Your success, well-being, ambition, how you contribute to the collective community and greater society, all depends on the nourishment you receive from such circles. You don’t want anything to affect your personal and professional development. Routine is significant for individuals who struggle with setting boundaries and prioritizing. Establishing a routine and being consistent in your everyday goals will ground you. Structure highlights what your day looks like and where you want to invest your energy, because your time and presence is valuable.