"(Being black,) it makes me feel special."
-Jenea Tomblin, Strong Black Girl
“I feel very glad that I’m a black woman. I feel more attached to the earth, I get more happy when I’m around people. I feel strong knowing that I’m black because of my roots."
-Patience Smith, High School Senior
“To me being a black woman means being strong and independent, and brave.”
-Maia Williams, High School Senior
“I think black womanhood means to be an independent queen.”
-Bria Williams, Actress/Vocalist
“Black womanhood to me is strength. I believe I am a strong individual because I am black. I believe I am beautiful because of my skin color. I believe that black womanhood, personally, is the golden standard to me because we set the tone for everything--like style and fashion, and even the way we talk. We have so much strength and power in our voices, in our words, we have so much to say. So I believe black womanhood is beautiful but overshadowed.”
-Kelli Short, High School Sophomore
“Black womanhood to me is divinity. A thing I notice in the media a lot is there’s constantly the angry black woman narrative that’s always pushed forward. And any time a black woman has an opinion we’re told you’re angry, stop expressing yourself, be more passive…when in actuality it’s simply expressing the perspective we come from and the state of mind we’re at right now.
I believe that black women, we are queens, and I feel like we need to know that more and keep that in the back of our heads, because when the media and the world tells us to shut up and that we are nothing, we have to make sure we put out that we are something. We are divinity, we should keep talking, and never let anyone silence us.”
-Naomi Allen, High School Senior
“I think being a black woman is having an obligation to strive and help others, especially just going down to our ancestors--what we have done, just having to be here we’ve achieved so much, we’ve accomplished so much. And I think that’s an important role, especially as a young black woman...Just having to uplift everyone, not just black women. That’s what I think a black woman should do—should be.”
-Justice Henry, High School Senior
"Black womanhood, wow. What does that mean to me? It means everything to me, really. In today’s day in age it’s like, being black isn’t cool, isn’t in. A lot of black women forget how strong they are, how powerful they are, how beautiful they are. They want to just cover it up and mask it and just f—ing be someone that they’re not so they can be accepted, because they haven’t been accepted their whole life, you feel me?...
So what black womanhood means to me, it means being strong when you don’t even want to be. It means being beautiful in your own natural beauty, it means... just loving yourself and everything you are yo, that’s all it is."
-Lauren Hogan, Student
"Black womanhood means to me [being] bold, love, strength, power, daily struggle, [and] survival."
-Asia Thompkins, Postal Clerk
"For me black womanhood was learning to be comfortable and confident, especially in terms of beauty. It’s like growing up, especially being dark in color, always being told I was ugly [took] a real tole on my confidence. It wasn’t until I actually looked in the mirror and told myself 'You’re beautiful,' until I believed that I could actually move on and grow in myself in that way."
-Deborah Asokue, Undergraduate Student
“Black womanhood, I think it’s interesting on a PWI campus because I feel like I was constantly trying to fight negative stereotypes, even if they weren’t necessarily enforced on me. It just made me hyper aware of my identity and strengthened that part of my identity.”
-Mattie Hedgebeth, Carnegie Mellon Undergraduate Student
“When I think of being a black woman…there’s so much to say! You can’t say just one thing about a black woman, I mean we’re everything! We’re strong, smart, beautiful, powerful, [we’re] examples of the struggle. The list can go on and on.
We’re the sh—. We’re the bomb diggity. Why wouldn’t you wanna be us?”
-Courtney Christian, Undergraduate Student
“Black womanhood to me is [being] a strong black woman, a woman who can overcome anything, a woman who can get things done by any means necessary, a woman who can carry the world on her back and never breaks a sweat. A black woman to me is just a phenomenal woman.”
-Simone Quinerly, Financial Planner
“To me it means to be fully affirmed and assert yourself, it means to have knowledge and wisdom but also know what to do with it...It’s knowing when to fight battles and when not to, when it’s time to sit down and when it’s time to stand up. It’s knowing how to evaluate when it’s time to move forward.
We get angry, we get testy, we think we know when it’s time to move forward and then we give up, and that’s not what it is. I think black womanhood is having strengths and weaknesses and learning to love yourself, and what it means to love, and be yourself, and be a black woman."
-Jacquea Mae, Singer/Creative
“Black womanhood is beautiful and complex. It’s like being an underground hero. We do a lot of stuff but don’t necessarily get the credit for it. I mean we’re awesome, we started civilization—it’s proven in our mitochondrial DNA.
Even though we do things like snatch the rebel flag and go to jail for it, when they think of heroes of leadership, our faces and our full bodies with breasts and wide hips aren’t the vision of any of the movements. But I like being a black woman, I think it’s great, it’s awesome.”
-Davelle Barnes, Network Technician
"Black womanhood to me means being bold and beautiful and powerful, and still being able to be timid and intimate and passionate. It embodies every type of womanhood because everybody came from black women to begin with. It’s a beautiful thing."
-Leah Smith, Shop Manager
“Black womanhood in general comes with a sense of confidence that other people don’t have because we were taught to not have it. And the only way to get it was giving it to each other...
It’s hard because people want to put a label on you all the time...you just have to fight so much harder for the most ridiculous things...And that’s not just Pittsburgh, that’s the entire country, that’s the world. And it’s more like how is it to be a black American, and it’s difficult. You have to be an educator constantly, or an agitator, or, dead.”
-Neek Cheinsaw, Chef de Partie
"For me, black womanhood has meant being one of the most conspicuous individuals walking around my apartment complex in the South Hills, suburbs of Pittsburgh, and my office building--as my race and sex are quite obvious. The strangest paradox for me has been that I do feel that I go largely unnoticed--as if I am such a minority that I am slipping through the cracks.
I know that my presence is felt at times but it seems to instill fear or cause dismissal for the majority of the time. The layers with which I interact with the world and my perspective are likely complicated by my identity as queer and as a gender non-conforming person. But, as a result, I have found my niche/community in Pittsburgh!”
-Heather Rae Martin, Healthcare Professional
"Being a black woman is beautiful. I wouldn’t change it for the world. I was raised by a single woman, and she’s strong and powerful, and…honestly I’ve never seen being a black woman as a challenge. I’ve embraced who I am, and being very honest and sincere in all things that I do, that it’s not always about my race but it’s about myself as a person and what I want to do. So I’ve always wanted to do work that served my community, and my community includes all people. So I hope to be an inspiration to other black women but at the end of the day I’m all about helping people, because we have to care for each other."
-Nehna Young, City Planner
“What black womanhood means to me is that we are the backbone of our community. Especially in the civic engagement and political arena, we are the ones rallying up our family, our youth, our men to get to the polls and vote. We may not always be represented at the table as elected officials but we really help the people who are at the table to get to the point that they are. Without black women in the community there could be no school boards, there could be no councils actually making effective changes.”
-Marita Garrett, Councilwoman, Borough of Wilkinsburg
"Black womanhood is to be powerful, [it’s] strength, endurance, [being a] nurturer, lover, motherly, caring, and bold. And without those qualities existence wouldn’t be what it is today, due to our strength."
-Jessica Bolden, Research Technician/Lab Manager
"It means being beautiful and unique - and as a result being able to relate to many different people. Coming to Pittsburgh, I like how the black community is very supportive of each other and welcoming."
-Dr. Sarah Abdulla, Radiologist
“Black women, what they mean to me are strong, dedicated, determined, and powerful.”
-Kia Starr, Singer/Songwriter
"Being a black woman in Pittsburgh means [being] powerful, motherly and caring towards every child and teaching them right from wrong. Being a black woman is empowering."
"Being a black woman in Pittsburgh gives me a chance to represent other black women creatively, and socially. Pittsburgh still has a long way to go culturally and racially, but I’m doing what I can to help with that progression."
-Denele D. Biggs, Poet/Author
"The possibilities [of black womanhood] are endless because over time we’ve sort of been the last in line to receive, so we can now do whatever it is we feel we can do. So if we put in the hard work and we have the vision and the creativity and the skill, then we can pretty much make our own dreams come true."
-Leigh Solomon, Creative Arts Consultant
"I left [Pittsburgh] for 20 years and came back, and I realized not to get caught up in location, and [to] really get to the heart of what it means to be a black woman. It doesn’t matter where I am...So being a black woman in Pittsburgh is being a woman that feels at home wherever she is."
-Kendra J. Ross, Singer/Creative Professional
"I don’t like to always categorize everything as black and white. I think we all have a responsibility as far as being a black woman--[for me it's] teaching my children the culture we [have had] back to slavery and how things are now...
...I would just say being a woman in general, being the mother, showing my kids that women work, we don’t always just sit at home and cook and clean for the husband. We go out, make our money, pay bills as well, take care of the house and we can still go to school and work, take care of home.”
-Ashley McCray, Daycare Facility Director
"What it’s like to be a black woman in Pittsburgh. The adjectives that come to my mind are challenging, rough, limited exposure…it’s just difficult. It’s really difficult. We don’t have a voice here, not just for black females but for black people in general. We don’t have a voice, any type of portrayal of us is a negative image, unhealthy really, for me, and that’s been my experience.
Though there is positivity it’s always overshadowed by what we lack, or what we don’t have. And now Pittsburgh is in this big time of gentrification, it’s almost like we don’t even have to be acknowledged now. So that’s been my experience so far."
-Rashida McElrath (r), Government employee/Army Reserve member
(Pictured with her mother Deborah, School District Administrative Assistant)
"In terms of science, being a black woman in science, for the most part sometimes it feels very foreign. It feels like you’re a foreigner in a strange land, and you have to learn how to navigate the waters. And I would imagine for any woman it feels that way but I know for black women, because we are so few and far between, you’re constantly reminded of it. But even with that constant reminder, over time it’s one of those things you kind of put in the background a little because you can’t let it be the only thing that consumes you."
-Teresa Shakespeare, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Biology
“Black womanhood to me means being confident, being the authentic woman that you are.”
-Founder, Daughters of Zion
"First when I think about being a black woman in academia I think about responsibility. Everyday I walk into my classroom thinking I need to give my students the best so they can rise to the occasion, so they can be the best. I think about productivity. You need to keep up, so productivity is important. And I think about hope. Because there was a time when black women didn’t have the opportunity to get a Ph.D. So now that I’ve been blessed and privileged enough to go down that path I think about that hopefulness of where the future of black women in the sciences is going to go."
-Mesia Moore Steed, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Cell and Molecular Biology
“When I think of black womanhood the first word that comes to mind is strength. We also have to be courageous. So we have to be strong enough to go through this life knowing that it’s not set up for us to succeed, but having the courage to move ahead anyway. So we step out on faith, and we let God do the rest.”
-Cheryl Bell, Ph.D., Postdoctoral Associate
“What does it mean to be a black woman in Pittsburgh? Obviously it’s going to have it’s share of difficulties. Pittsburgh has always been an area predominantly Caucasian. Whether you’re in the workforce or a student, I think you’ll find very few African-Americans in general. For women it’s going to have it’s share of difficulties because we truly are a minority. Underpaid, outnumbered, the workforce isn’t very kind to us from all aspects. But I was born and raised here so that’s why I chose to stay here, and hopefully through the things I’m involved in we can make some changes.”
-Jerlyn Smith, Board Chair
“What black womanhood means to me is being independent. Being strong and learning to depend on yourself because that might be all you have to depend on. But just feeling good about yourself, feeling good about who you are and trying to make it happen, living life to the fullest. Being a black woman in Pittsburgh doesn’t make it different because I would still be me no matter where I am, and I would still be trying to live life to the fullest and make it happen."
-Shelley Hundley, Social Worker & Entrepreneur
“What black womanhood means to me is strong, resilient, nurturing, forgiving, and loving.”
-Stephanie Champ-Ali, Administrative Assistant
“To be a black woman is about more than just skin color, it’s an identity. We have to know where we came from and that we’re the mother of life, and that’s why we get it from all angles. But because we’re the mother of life we always extend an olive branch to whomever. And to me that’s what it means being a black woman—understanding our role in the history of humanity.”
-Deborah Blackwell-Battle, Child & Community Advocate
"Being a woman of color is a beautiful thing. It's about loving who you are."
-Deanna Davis, Real Estate Professional
“Black womanhood means to me being supportive of others, encouraging each other to do the next right thing. Give to each other what our ancestors gave us, which is values and morals. Being kind to one another, as long as you help yourself we’re there to help you, and when we see you go astray say something. That’s what black womanhood means to me.”
-Patricia Parker, Community Liason
“What black womanhood means to me is strength, courage, and faith. We come from a long line of strong women, and with me having daughters and nieces and students that I come in contact with, I want to instill those strengths in them. It’s tough--it’s a hard road, but as you can see we are survivors. So that’s what I’m trying to instill. That’s what black womanhood means to me.”
-Vickie Valentine, Educator
“(Being) black women means that there’s a nature for us to be innovative and to commit to the struggle on a daily basis.”
-Patricia Blakey, Registered Nurse
“Black womanhood means to me strength, powerfulness--we’re just awesome beautiful women.”
-Harriet McCray, Professional Baker & Event Planner
"I don’t really think [I think of myself as a black woman] at this stage of my life. I’ve sort of grown out of that. I now think of myself in terms of age. Being a black woman has changed from my inception up until now, but I mainly think of myself in terms of age."
-Delores Parker, Retired Professional
“Black womanhood is precious, if we just realize that. An African woman said once that if women realize how powerful they are, they could change the world just like that. And that’s what black womanhood means to me.”
-Lois Toni McClendon, Storyteller & Activist
“What a black woman means to me is (a) strong, independent family woman. (She) takes care of her loved ones and just loves life.”
-Gina Velar, Accounts Payable Specialist
“What black womanhood means to me is strong, resilient, nurturing, forgiving, and loving.”
-Stacey Muhammed, Retired Systems Analyst
“Black womanhood (is) to me like flowers blooming. Continuously reinventing ourselves, nurturing, (being) a gardener--of our lives, and the lives of our family."
-Connie Portis, Founder, Sisters & Friends Getaway
“What a woman means to me is powerful.”
-Emma Coleman, Cleaning Company Owner
“I feel that a strong black woman is a woman that can work herself out of any situation.”
-Priscilla Burgess, Retired Professional
"Being a woman in Pittsburgh, even today, we have men treat us like we’re children. They have to tell us what to do like we can’t think for ourselves. I don’t want to belittle them but they aughta step back and think what they have, and not believe all of the rhetoric."
-Jaqueline Walker, Retired Professional
The Portrait Series
An array of black girls, teens, and women across the Pittsburgh region share what black womanhood means to them within the city, and beyond.