This past summer I had the pleasure of working with the Asante Art Institute’s program Zora’s Daughters. This program teaches young Black students about Black women writers. It was a joy to write and grow with them for the six weeks we were together. When preparing for the big ceremony, every student was asked what they wanted to share during the celebration; it could be something they or someone else wrote. Instantly, one specific student said they wanted to share a letter from Dear Black Girl: Letters From Your Sisters on Stepping Into Your Power. At the time, I hadn’t read the book, but I owned it (yes, I am a serial book buyer). On the day of the ceremony to receive their completion certificates, I gathered all the students to ask them how confident they felt or if they needed to practice one last time. This student looked me in the eyes and said, “No, I’m ready. I want to read this letter written by Mrs. Dixon.” When the time came to present, this student stood up, shaking, and shared anchoring words from the book. Because of that moment, I can without a doubt say that this book is changing lives. Everyone’s eyes filled with tears as the words of Mrs. Keesha Dixon left this young writer’s mouth: “Hey Black Girl! Did you know there is a divine cord that connects us together? We cannot be separated. Our strength is in our stories.”
Watching a young Black queer writer slowly lean more into their voice inspires and moves you. After this moment, I found myself returning to this book and unable to put it down. Reading it felt like one hug after another as I read letters from Black women from all kinds of backgrounds sharing their stories about coming into their own selfhood. The book touches on a multitude of topics such as identity, grief, sisterhood, self-care, respectability, relationships, and more. With the many themes touched on in this book, every letter, with radical courage and vulnerability, works to debunk myths about Black girls that take away from our humanity in schools, work spaces, and even within relationships between ourselves and others. Winfrey-Harris provides statistics and definitions throughout to guide the reader as well. This book is not one you should rush through; it requires time and a bit of reflection and engagement because it’s a communal experience. At the end of each chapter, the reader is asked to write their own letters to themselves or a Black girl they know.
While reading and journaling, I returned to myself to seek the answers or questions behind my own selfhood. My question to you is what advice would you give your younger self? What are things you wish you knew at 15 or 21? Would your younger self be proud of you? Who did you want to be when you grew up? Are you that person? If not, how can you become that person? What conversation do you need to have with your inner child?
Chantel Massey (she/her) is a poet, author, teaching artist, educator, and anime lover based in Indiana. Massey has received fellowships with Hurston/Wright Foundation and The Watering Hole. She is a 2019 Best of Net Award nominee and author of Bursting At The Seams (VK Press, 2018). Massey founded the literary arts organization, UnLearn Arts, cultivating and amplifying the craft and wellness of BIPOC writers. Her work can be found featured in Solstice Literary Magazine, Indianapolis Review, Turnpike Magazine, and other online and print publications coming elsewhere. Alongside performing poetry, Massey serves as board member and Community Outreach Committee member for youth poetry organization, Word As Bond, editor at Sidepiece Magazine, and co-host for Tea’s Me Cafe Open Mic with poet, Eric Saunders, every first Friday. By day she is a special education teacher providing an equitable education to little humans, a student at Marian University studying to better provide for those little humans, and a Caliban Art Board Member.
Monthly reviews of books written by Indiana authors are made possible by the Eugene and Marilyn Glick Indiana Authors Awards and Indiana Humanities. Opinions expressed in this review are solely those of the reviewer, not any affiliated entity.