By Rozella Haydée White, M.A.R.,
I am a life and leadership coach, creator, and consultant who is a Meaning Maker. My singular goal is to help people live meaningful lives as they embrace the fullness of who they are. Specifically, I am called to walk with women as they come alive. This calling is directly tied to my journey of embracing who I am – unapologetically black, unashamedly woman, unabashedly Christian and unrelentingly loving.
I know that I was created to help others become aware of who God has created them to be and grow in their love, understanding and compassion of self in order to be in authentic relationship with others and use their gifts to transform the world.
I look to create innovative solutions to social problems – those that begin with individuals and impact communal realities. I do this by accompanying people through coaching, creating and consulting that brings about healing, growth and transformation.
In hindsight, I know without a shadow of a doubt that womanism was an intrinsic part of my formation. Upon encountering Alice Walker’s definition1, I knew I was a womanist.
From womanish. (Opp. of “girlish,” i.e. frivolous, irresponsible, not serious.) A black feminist or feminist of color. From the black folk expression of mothers to female children, “you acting womanish,” i.e., like a woman. Usually referring to outrageous, audacious, courageous or willful behavior. Wanting to know more and in greater depth than is considered “good” for one. Interested in grown up doings. Acting grown up. Being grown up. Interchangeable with another black folk expression: “You trying to be grown.” Responsible. In charge. Serious.
2. Also: A woman who loves other women, sexually and/or nonsexually. Appreciates and prefers women’s culture, women’s emotional flexibility (values tears as natural counterbalance of laughter), and women’s strength. Sometimes loves individual men, sexually and/or nonsexually. Committed to survival and wholeness of entire people, male and female. Not a separatist, except periodically, for health. Traditionally a universalist, as in: “Mama, why are we brown, pink, and yellow, and our cousins are white, beige and black?” Ans. “Well, you know the colored race is just like a flower garden, with every color flower represented.” Traditionally capable, as in: “Mama, I’m walking to Canada and I’m taking you and a bunch of other slaves with me.” Reply: “It wouldn’t be the first time.”
3. Loves music. Loves dance. Loves the moon. Loves the Spirit. Loves love and food and roundness. Loves struggle. Loves the Folk. Loves herself. Regardless.
4. Womanist is to feminist as purple is to lavender.
I was raised in a village comprised of black women who were womanists in every way.
My understanding of womanism as a theological lens and biblical hermeneutic was first informed by my time at Spelman College. As a freshwoman, I took two courses that forever changed my life. The first was African Diaspora and the World, commonly referred to “ADW”. It was a year long course broken into two semesters with the primary goal of “preparing students to develop a perception of themselves as citizens of a changing and increasingly compressed world, of sharpening the awareness of diverse cultural and historical experiences and of promoting the association between learning and social change.”2 This course introduced me to epistemology – the philosophy concerned with ways of knowing. It was the first time that I rigorously interrogated what I believed and why I believed it. This course not just dealt with the African diaspora, but it did so departing from a gendered perspective. Who we were as black women was brought into the room, every time. Our readings and lessons dealt with history through a lens of feminism.
I also took a course entitled “Women in the Bible.” This class not only invited me to encounter stories that had long been ignored or glossed over (hello the Levite’s Concubine and Dinah), but it also formed a hermeneutic that I would use for the rest of my life. My instructor was a woman of christian faith who asked us to wonder why it was that our interpretation seemed disconnected from our lived experience as young black women. My mind was blown and I could no longer see the world without this lens.
When I went to seminary, I was very clear that any biblical or theological interpretation I engaged in HAD to include a womanist hermeneutic. I devoured Dolores Williams’ Sisters in the Wilderness, along with the work of many other scholars – Katie Cannon, Renita Weems, Jacquelyn Grant, Karen Baker Fletcher, Emilie Townes, Valerie Bridgeman – to name a few. These women invited me to ask life altering questions; questions that dealt with faith and justice, self awareness and self care, communal love and individual love, healing and wholeness.
These women also gave me permission to refine my understanding of Christianity and my point of departure as it relates to who God is as the Trinity and who God is specifically as the person of Jesus.
What if Jesus came to live and not to die?
What if the most important part of the Christian story was the incarnation of God and not the torture, death and resurrection of Jesus?
What if we considered that God did not send Jesus to be the surrogate for humanity; in Jesus being the one to take on the sins of the world in order for humanity to be redeemed?
What if God was more interested in all things life giving and rejected all things death dealing?
These questions continue to inform who I am at my core and are foundational to my beliefs.
The heart of my work is directly tied to this portion of the womanist definition: Committed to survival and wholeness of entire people, male and female. Not a separatist, except periodically, for health. Traditionally a universalist, as in: “Mama, why are we brown, pink, and yellow, and our cousins are white, beige and black?” Ans. “Well, you know the colored race is just like a flower garden, with every color flower represented.”
EVERYTHING I do is connected to a deep desire for wholeness and healing, for women to come alive to their divine identity; for people to understand that their liberation, that our liberation is inextricably bound. #MillennialWomanism is the next iteration of womanist thought, taking into account our lived experience as intersectional beings who cannot separate our identities from our lived experience from our communal realities. In the words of Audre Lorde, there is no such thing as a single-issue struggle, because we do not live single-issue lives.3 My personal struggle for liberation and freedom, is connected to a communal struggle, one that is tied to a myriad of social issues and personal ways of viewing ourselves and each other that impede our progress towards healing and wholeness.
[easy-tweet tweet=”Who I am and how I show up in the world, today, is of utmost importance. ” template=”qlite”]
I’m concerned about how we show up in the world. The incarnation is my departing point for understanding who God is and what God desires. This notion of our bodies and our everyday, lived experiences being so important that a Divine God takes on human flesh and life is also connected to my womanist hermeneutical lens. This means that my body, my reality as a black woman not only matters but is important. Who I am and how I show up in the world, today, is of utmost importance. My work draws on this understanding and invites others to consider how the skin that they’re in, the values they profess and the practices they embody make meaning in the world.
At the heart of #MillennialWomanism is self-awareness.
To be a millennial woman of African descent means that one is in touch with their generation – the social, political, cultural and spiritual realities that are present and constantly unfolding. It means that one has clarity of not only what it means to be a woman, but to be a woman who is formed by the life, death, struggles and wisdom of black women who have come before her.
To be a millennial woman of African descent means that blackness is not an afterthought but a foundational reality from which all else departs. Being a millennial woman of African descent means that there is a particular bent towards wholeness and healing; that sacrifice and struggle – while an inherent part of life – do not have the last word, nor do they define who we are.
For far too long, suffering has superseded the life and witness of black women while joy and freedom have been a privilege reserved for some and not all. #MillennialWomanism calls this reality into question. It doesn’t ignore the very real intersectional oppression that black women experience but it doesn’t give it the power erase God’s intent for women and for all to experience communal and individual joy that is life giving and deconstructs and obliterates all that is death dealing.
#MillennialWomanism invites ALL – not just women – to imagine communal realities steeped in abundance, justice, equity and an all encompassing love that embodies inclusivity and liberation.
1 Alice Walker. In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens: Womanist Prose. Copyright 1983.
3 Audre Lorde. “Learning from the 60s,” in Sister Outsider: Essays & Speeches. Berkeley, CA: Crossing Press, 2007.
Rozella Haydée White is a life and leadership coach, consultant and creator helping people live their most meaningful life. As a writer, teacher, preacher and public theologian, Rozella is a known presence on social media boldly engaging issues of faith, justice, mental illness and the radical and transformative love of God as embodied in the person of Jesus. Rozella is desperately seeking justice, mercy, humility and love. She believes that everyone is gifted and has the power to transform themselves, their communities and the world when they tap into their most authentic self.
Twitter & Instagram: @rozellahw