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Back when I first started dreaming about The Diversity Series THIS portrait session is the first one I envisioned. Due to covid and coordinating three busy schedules, it took longer than I expected to get to the finish line, but the wait was worth it! Patience provided the time needed for a mutual friend to connect me with Shantia J. Coley as a model option for this photo shoot. This happenstance connection was with a woman who shares my passions for diversity, authenticity, inclusion, and much more. On top of that, she has an incredible ability to put those passions into words and she agreed to share them here. No matter your background, I guarantee her words will either resonate or enlighten and most certainly will empower and inspire.

Woman poses in Uptown Charlotte NC during a photo shoot that celebrates diversity.

The Strong Black Woman

Shantia J. Coley, Esquire

Being a black woman at times feels like being a superhero cloaked in melanin and magic. It’s elite. It’s empowering. It’s dignified. It’s queenly.

But behind the chins raised high and brave, eloquent smiles often lies a deeply embedded fear. As black women, we are supposed to be strong. We are supposed to stand tall. We are the silent backbones of many families, often rearing our own children and then rearing their children. The fear comes not from wearing so many badges of honor, but from the potential of letting one of the many balls we have in the air drop.

I can speak to this. I am a wife, mother, attorney, entrepreneur, friend, family member, and obviously a black woman. I work hard to be the calm in any storm and have just about perfected the art of the brave face.

As I have aged and begun to intimate discussions about what is often behind my “mask,” I’ve realized that many other black women struggle with the same pressures to perform and hold things together.

Shantia poses during her stylized portrait session wearing a face mask.

As I have aged and begun to intimate discussions about what is often behind my “mask,” I’ve realized that many other black women struggle with the same pressures to perform and hold things together.

As someone who questions everything, I have often asked myself where this “strength” came from. The immediate first answer I always come back with is my own family matriarchs—my mother and grandmother. I’ve witnessed them raise families as single mothers and to this day, I have never once seen my fifty-something-year-old mother cry although I know she has met pain in her life. I can say the exact same for my grandmother.

But the answer has to be deeper and being me, I dug. I have been able to personally trace the roots of the “strong black woman” to slavery. You see, we were either torn away from our husbands or partners and forced to raise children alone in slavery or we were designated “house slaves” and forced to wear a brave face in a place where we were not welcome or sometimes taken advantage of physically.

But yet—we persisted. We cooked, we cleaned, we raised the babies (ours and those of our owners at times) and we didn’t dare complain. We adapted and adjusted—even as slaves.

What is so shocking about this all is that through the years, as we have battled depression, insecurities, pain, sadness, and fear in silence, study after study shows that black women have the lowest suicide rates. Yes, you read that right.

So how do I, as a black woman, a millennial and someone who prides herself on wellness, make sense of all of this?  And how do I share a message that resonates with more than just me?

Well first, I think we must analyze our own brave faces and their origins. There is nothing innately wrong with brave faces and we all wear them because we are all human. If you’re a black woman, maybe it was inherited from generations and generations of black women forced to be strong in the face of trauma. Maybe yours is due to a fear of failure. Maybe you do not want to let someone down.

It is time to take the masks off. It is time for us, in the face of COVID and mounting racial tensions to do something more courageous than putting on a brave face. It is time to be vulnerable. Now, this may sound counterproductive as I have just stated that black women have the lowest rates of suicide and are masters of facing trauma without so much as a flinch, but what are we passing down to our children and their children?

I would much rather pass along to my lineage a healthy way of dealing with trauma. A healthy way of confronting pain and a healthy way of learning the power of using their voices. We can do all of the above while suffering in silence, or we can do all of the above while being mindful of our mental health, seeking therapy, finding trusted outlets and mentors and of course, still leaning on our faith.

I took my figurative mask off a couple of years after having my children and it was one of the most liberating experiences of my life. I began to draw attention to my own wants and needs. I began to express them to those who love me. I learned the power of selfishness and how it lends itself directly to selflessness at the end of the day. I learned the power of “no” and I learned that I can still be a superhero cloaked in melanin and magic without always having to be “strong.” Most of all, I learned to lean on others and ask for help.

You do not have to be a black woman to follow suit and I urge you, no matter your background to do the same. Liberate yourself. Take off your figurative masks and let the cycle of generational suffering in silence end with you. This is a critical time for our future. Will you hide or will you decide to truly be brave?

A woman sits to have her photo taken in Uptown Charlotte NC.

Shantia Coley is a transformational speaker and nationally recognized Fortune 500 attorney. She handles an international defensive litigation caseload and at any given time is handling over 100 cases globally. As a millennial and first-generation college graduate, she is passionate about wellness, leadership in women of color, and inclusion. As such, she travels nationally engaging in courageous conversations on these and other topics.

Shantia is a graduate of Elon University where she currently serves on the President’s Young Leaders Council and North Carolina Central University School of Law. In her community, she was appointed to the Domestic Violence Advisory Board by the Charlotte City Council.

Shantia serves as Parliamentarian of the National Bar Association’s Young Lawyer’s Division. She was also recognized by the same as one of the top 40 litigators in the nation. She has shared the stage with dynamic actress/comedienne Kim Coles and the phenomenal Miss USA. 

Shantia is married and is the mother of identical twin five-year-old boys.

 

We definitely learn best from each other! Share with us. Have you been liberated from your “mask”? -OR- Are you just tackling this issue? However Shantia’s words are resonating with you, let us know in the comments. Speak your mind!

Woman poses against metal wall in Uptown Charlotte NC during her stylized portrait session

This installment of The Diversity Session involved a little more magic than usual. Shanita and I were lucky enough to work with Harleigh Hybarger of H2Glow, a local esthetician who added a little glam to this special photoshoot. You can find Harliegh’s studio in the Birkdale area of Huntersville, North Carolina. Her skincare services are NUMEROUS so make sure to jump over to her website to see what she provides.

After makeup with Harleigh, Shantia and I drove to the Uptown area of Charlotte North Carolina to capture her stylized photos. Her gorgeous dress is from LuLu’s, a company I use often for stylized portraits sessions.

Harleigh of H2Glow applies makeup to a model for The Diversity Series photo session.
Harleigh of H2Glow applies makeup to a model for The Diversity Series photo session.

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