On April 8th the “Black Girl” empowerment movement lost one of its most dynamic and forceful young sisters, with the passing of Karyn Washington, Founder of “For Brown Girls” blog. Karyn at the young age of 22 had already had an immense impact on so many with her lively antidotes and encouraging blog posts that inspired the self-acceptance and self-empowerment of African American women through positive self-image. Despite the accolades and praise received for her work, Karyn was suffering silently and sadly took her own life this last past Tuesday (April 8th, 2014).
When I first heard the news of Karyn’s passing my heart ached. Every blog and media outlet with an interest and focus on African Americans has taken to their platforms to offer condolences and concern for Karyn’s untimely passing, and echo the need for an increased focus on mental health awareness in the black community. Several articles have cited that Karyn’s passing could be described as an “oxymoron” or “contradiction” to the uplifting quotes and posts she used to encourage the empowerment of African American women. In the HuffPost Live chat featuring Terri Williams, acclaimed mental health advocate/speaker and author of Black Pain, Williams discusses how Karyn most likely was “wearing a mask” that she could no longer sustain. As Terri Williams’ acclaimed book’s sub-title states, “it just looks like we’re not suffering.”
BGS Personal Reaction:
Following the passing of her mother in September 2013, Karyn seemly forged ahead and maintained her status as a SBW (Strong Black Woman) focusing on her work encouraging positive self-image among fellow African American females. So often we as SBW appear to be just that; strong black women, and to the world we help everyone else, because we “have it together”, we are the “strong" ones, but inside we are suffering. The mask Terri Williams mentioned, we [SBWs] can only hold up for so long before the muscles in our arm start to ache and as hard as we want to maintain the façade of strength and “having it together”, the mask melts or falls away. We don’t know where to turn because everyone turns to us. We’re alone, and vulnerable, and mask-less.
We can’t keep letting our brothers and sister suffer in silence, and ultimately choose to end their own suffering. We have to be mindful that despite the “strong” and/or “having it together” appearance, there really is only so much one person can handle alone. We as a community (the black community) have to move forward, way forward, from the predated notions that talking about ones woes, troubles, heartache and feelings is “unacceptable” and signifies “weakness” and chinks in one’s armor. On the contrary, let us be courageous in showing who we really are; real, vulnerable, and in the same breathe SBW and SBM (strong black men).
Karyn, thank you for sharing your beautiful, courageous and fierce spirit with so many of us. Know your work and memory will continue to change lives for the better.