Updated: Apr 29
On the surface, the strong black woman trope seems like a badge of honor. That black women can make strides such as being the most educated group in America at one point in time, that they can hold down multiple jobs to care for their families sometimes in the absence of able partners locked up by the state for years on end due to petty offenses, that they can take on the emotionally and physically taxing work of being community organizers on the front lines of social justice movements for their communities and somehow look radiant on the outside thus rightfully adorning themselves with the hashtag #blackgirlmagic is truly a thing of awe. However, the trope is paralyzing. In her 2011 book " Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America," political scientist Melissa Harris Perry conveys that "in order to combat the shame that shapes black women's experience, many respond by assuming a mantle of strength that may convince others, and even themselves, that they do not need help." But the reality is, black women are one of, if not, the most vulnerable group in America and possibly the world and are certainly in need of help and care due to the pressures and insecurities that life brings their way. My colleague and friend, Marcharkelti McKenzie has inspired me from afar due to the way she publicly shares about the low-times in her life. I wanted to know if publicly sharing when she is not alright aided her in any way. Our dialogue, though brief, was telling.
The Africa Expo : In what ways have you not been ok?
Marcharkelti: I was diagnosed with a learning disability, dyslexia earlier in life. In coping with it, I became depressed and a self doubter and it was all a daily fight. It took a terrible turn when I was accepted into college without my high school diploma. Worried about not being good enough and that my college would realize they made a mistake because I didn't belong, I found myself on the 3rd floor lobby of my college dorm writing my suicide note because I no longer cared about life.The feeling of hopelessness had become the driver and I was its passenger.
The Africa Expo: Why was it important to confess your limitations from that point?
Marcharkelti: To be free from your afflictions you have to confess. Confessing about my learning disability and my mental health struggles allowed me to get help and to operate in a liberating system.
The Africa Expo:What does that liberating system look like for you?
Marcharkelti: My liberating system was to confess, prepare, execute and repeat. Now that I am more open about my learning disability, I prepare myself for each each task by asking myself the following questions:
1.What are my limitations?
2. What is it going to take for me to be successful?
3. How can I be successful?
4. What am I good at?
By asking these questions to myself, I have discovered so much about myself. I have gifts and I can achieve anything.
The Africa Expo: What are those achievements and those gifts you've discovered?
Marcharkelti: I completed my Masters of Divinity Degree. Theology and my faith have been instrumental in overcoming my doubts and fears and I am happy to incorporate it in a professional way into my life.
I created a business named Poetry Girl Inc. Poetry Girl Inc offers resources to assist people and organizations with technology needs, which happens to be another gift I have since discovered that I have. I am photographer and web designer. I offer e-courses in social media branding and marketing, graphic design and video making. In the midst of this website that is all about technology, you can also find blogposts where I motivate visitors through my own confessions to follow their dreams. Because this work is more meaningful than motivating through writing, I started the N.O.W Network which is about building a community for women to better themselves. There, I hope to interview women in the community who like me, have overcome something meant to keep them down.
Last, I wrote a book, Your Time is Now, which tells my story. I hope others can find hope in what I've been able to confess.
The Africa Expo: What keeps you going?
Marcharkelti: I think back to the time I contemplated suicide. As I made up my mind to give up, something, perhaps the voice of God said, "Stop, stop, stop.... You are my child. I love you. I made you in my image." All I could do was cry. From that point on, I was no longer afraid of using my story and testimony to bless other people. I challenge others to tell their story and begin at confession.
If you are struggling with mental health, confessing it to someone you love and trust is the first step. Then, for the love of your beautiful life, get help. It may not be easy to begin or feasible but, there are places to start. The Safe Place is an app created by Jasmin Pierre a Certified Peer Support Specialist and Mental Health First Aid Responder that helps dispel the myths around seeking therapy, offers wellness tips and group forums to share mental health experiences. Though geared towards the Black Community, it is useful for practitioners working with them.