by Wendy Widom
Chicago (CBS) — When Tamara Winfrey-Harris posted a request on Facebook for women of color to write supportive and heartfelt letters to girls of color for her upcoming conference in November, she expected about a dozen responses.
Instead, letters began to pour in from around the country and from as far away as Switzerland. Winfrey-Harris told CBS 2 that she has received about 50 letters since early October, along with requests from multiple women who would also like their daughters to be included.
“The response was phenomenal,” Winfrey-Harris said.
Winfrey-Harris, author of The Sisters Are Alright: Changing the Broken Narrative of Black Women in America, is also Vice President of Marketing and Communications at the Central Indiana Community Foundation. Her conference, called Beloved: Building Love and Support Between Black Women and Girls, seeks to build relationships between black women and girls. It will take place on November 3 in Indianapolis.
“We approach black girls from a place of authority instead of vulnerability and compassion,” Winfrey-Harris said. “Some of the girls I’ve talked to, they feel like they didn’t get the support they needed from black women.”
Winfrey-Harris added, “We tell black girls what to do, but we often forget to communicate with them. That’s the key.”
Once Winfrey-Harris saw the enthusiastic response to her call for letters, she and two friends, columnist Rochelle Riley and author Deesha Philyaw, realized they had an opportunity to reach beyond the women and girls attending the conference.
Now called the Letters to Black Girls Project, Winfrey-Harris, Rilsey and Philyaw plan to collect letters of inspiration and encouragement written by women and send them to girls all over the country.
Nicole Jackson of New Jersey saw the call for letters on Facebook during a business trip in Houston. Sitting in her hotel room one night, the thoughts she wanted to share with a young black girl she never met sprang to mind.
“I don’t think, even as a child, I imagined a world bigger than that town full of hopeful hopelessness. I couldn’t see past the concrete or crack needles that lined the path to where I now find myself today,” Jackson wrote. “But here I am, writing to you my darling.”
“I write you because in you in those veins carry the legacy of a dozen generations waiting for you to arrive to your own occasion.”
Asked why she wrote the letter, which turned out to be the first Winfrey-Harris received, Jackson said, “little black girls don’t necessarily see women like us in the spaces we are in.” These spaces include, according to Jackson, technology and positions of leadership, areas that are not historically spaces for women, “let alone women of color.”
Jackson believes the Letters to Black Girls Project has the potential to bring black girls and women closer together, as allies.“Little girls coming up need to know they have a community,” she said.
Patricia Jones Blessman, Ph.D., told CBS 2 that there are many ways this project can be transformative. “A letter is very personal, requires some deep thinking and it is something most people do not receive anymore,” she said.
Jones Blessman points to the concept of generativity, a developmental stage in which women express a desire to help those who are coming up behind them, to see them do well. “We’re all connecting to something,” she said, adding that women who write the letters may be seeking to build a village that is bigger than their block or social network.
Winfrey-Harris told CBS 2 that black girls get guidance from women but “but not in the way that’s most useful to them.” She hopes the letters will have a positive impact on both the girls who receive them and the women who write them.
“Sometimes the pain and scars from one generation keep rolling down hill,” Winfrey-Harris said. “For a lot of women, writing what they needed to hear as teenagers has been cathartic.”
The goal of the Letters to Black Girls Project, Winfrey-Harris said, is to amplify the voices of black women and girls.
She is not stopping there, however. “I think they’re like 12 million black girls,” said Winfrey-Harris. “If I was being super-ambitious, we would get 12 million letters in their hands.”
Letters can be sent to:
Letters to Black Girls Project
℅ Tamara Winfrey-Harris
PO Box 472
Noblesville, IN 46061
Or you can email firstname.lastname@example.org.