I heard about Natalie Collier and The Lighthouse | Black Girl Projects several months prior to actually sitting with her in her office in downtown Jackson. I remember the nervousness I felt as I walked into one of the few safe places I knew of curated unambiguously for Black girls and women. How could I even begin to fit into a world that has suffered because of people who look like me, maybe even because of me? How could I convince her and the people she worked with I was safe? Am I safe? … How dare I even enter the space! I was so crippled by my fear and questions I almost canceled.
I wonder how many of us miss beautifully powerful opportunities because we are scared? Here now in the midst of the unrest and civil actions about the murders of Breonna Taylor, Ahmad Arbury and George Floyd, among countless others, our nation is preparing for and in the throes of one of the most important battles of this generation. How many of us are on the sidelines because we want to be the perfect ally, the perfect advocate, the perfect activist?
Our society’s demands for perfection have created spaces where being well is impossible. Further, it’s virtually impossible to be well when the very core of who you are is denied. I can only imagine this feeling is magnified for my Black sisters and brothers. As a white person, it is time for me to make a choice between my own comfort and Black lives. That is part of my wellness.
The truth is we are all scared, but I am especially so. More truth: me being silent isn’t me being well, it’s fear. Just fear. I am scared my actions, beliefs and experiences have negatively impacted people I say I love. I am scared when I open myself up to feedback, I am going to hear that I am part of the problem. I am scared that inherently, I am racist. But just like the choice I made when I decided not to cancel the meeting with Natalie, I have to choose to sit in that fear, the discomfort, so change can occur. The price of my comfort is Black lives.
My fear cannot be an excuse for the Black community to suffer. If all the things I fear are true, the only way to change is to listen and grow. We must put ourselves in places where we listen, or growth cannot happen. Growth can’t happen if we remain silent in our bubbles of comfort. Change can’t happen, if we don’t hear our sisters’ stories and admit we have participated in their suffering. We cannot be well, if we are always comfortable.
The Lighthouse | Black Girl Projects is giving a space for people to be well. It is giving Black women a place where they don’t have to be perfect. It is giving people a place where they can examine themselves and be uncomfortable. The people at The Lighthouse are a movement and spaces like this will be the catalyst for a generation of wellness. The Black women, most recently the young women who are part of the Reese|Brooks|Gilbert College Leadership Initiative, I have sat with are some of the most incredible people in my world. We have laughed and cried together, and we’ve supported each other. They have called me out, and I have listened. They have demanded their wellness be valued, and I am honored to partner with the Lighthouse | Black Girl Projects.
As we navigate the world we are in, it is even more evident the need for accessible mental health care, especially in marginalized populations, is essential. Thank you, Lighthouse, for making wellness a priority and for continuing to make it accessible. Here’s to all of us who are looking to #staywell.
Leah Hunter is a certified crisis worker, suicide prevention specialist and pursuing licensure as a professional counselor in Mississippi. She specializes in women’s issues, young adult mental health coaching and educational equity in higher education. She is an animal welfare activist who enjoys spending time with her three rescue dogs, daughter Evie, and husband Roe.