by Georgia S. McDade
Brown Girls Write (BGW) founder Christy Abram has a mammoth task: helping women of color heal through self-expression.
Abram places great emphasis on self-care and safety. Because the women with whom she works women have often been ignored by mainstream health professionals or do not have access to healthcare, Abram encourages and teaches them to take care of themselves. Though many of their problems began in childhood — abandonment, homelessness, illness, incarceration, and abuse — some of these women continue to suffer as adults because of the ongoing impact of the past and their present circumstances. Abram is convinced writing is a cure or, at least, a beginning to becoming well.
At Brown Girls Write, she wants to honor the many women of color who overcame overwhelming odds and help women who struggle today by teaching them to express themselves, showing them that they, too, can live their best lives. Then she publishes their stories. While these steps encompass a remedy for emotional disquiet, she never asks them to do what she herself has not done.
Inspired by a true story, Abram’s first book, Little Miss Somebody, depicts experiences that affect positive change that helps women who can then help other women. The book won Seattle Public Library’s In the Margins award for best youth fiction. It relates the story of 14-year-old narrator Nikki who inhabits a world shattered by her mother’s move to another state. The girl must learn to take care of herself in every possible way in a new place, where she lives with her grandmother, surrounded by her drug-addicted aunts and uncles. Feeling unloved and like a burden, Nikki undertakes the job of locating her father and discovers that her family has a long history of abuse and pain. But Nikki does not give up. It’s clear the author puts into practice what she passes to anyone who will listen.
Abram has a number of models for Brown Girls Write. She partnered with Write 253, a Tacoma-based writing group, to pilot the program (then called Penning for Peace). She also worked with Mentor Richard Gold, founder of Pongo, who does similar work in the juvenile justice system and at psychiatric hospitals. For 25 years, Gold has helped young people describe hurt via poetry in an effort to help them get on the right side of the justice system. The participants see their efforts published in a book of poetry at the end of the program. Regardless of age, the writer who has witnessed violence, withstood abuse and violence relates the experience, perhaps for the first time.
Abram said writing has been a healthy escape for her since childhood. She began journaling when she was 10, and soon understood that writing provided her relief from turbulent family relationships. Perhaps most importantly, she learned to examine herself and her feelings. She tells her story, repeats her story, and does not shirk.
Abram believes healing requires transparency, and encourages others to be the same. She believes transparency results a cathartic breakthrough so many need before they can live lives all humans deserve.
Because a disproportionate number of women of color die from heart disease and a variety of cancers and obesity-related diseases, they must do whatever they can to be as healthy as they can to avoid an early death, said Abram. Being burdened with psychological problems in addition to such illness only compounds the problems. Abram’s answer to these physical and emotional issues is to explain the connection and the importance of tackling the aggravating stress. Genes play a role in one’s health; prescription drugs are generally tested on and for white people and typically men; the inability to get health care and low or no wages can be a major part of poor health. These problems can easily lead to poor self-care. Though many wish not to hear and do not believe facts which are not so easily documented, discrimination and prejudice exacerbate the health of women of color. The women themselves must act, and following Abram’s advice may be a good beginning. Women who do not care for themselves sometimes endure more harm because they do not always have the wherewithal to prevent falling and failing.
Abram provides advice in several forms. She offers the workshop Write Yourself Well. Her blog is filled with both her own writings and others’ whose goal is to help women of color live life to its fullest. Her newest release, Speak Your Truth; Heal Your Heart: The Broken Girl’s Guide to Radical Self-care, is available at major book stores. Abram delineates a process of transitioning from broken girl and broken woman to healed girl and healed woman, a life every woman deserves.
Christy Abram reads from Write Yourself Well Jan. 31 at 7 PM at Third Place Books Seward Park, 5041 Wilson Ave. S.
Featured Image: Christy Abram published Little Miss Somebody and is the founder of Brown Girls Write. (Photo courtesy Christy Abram)