“Joy,” “support” and “understanding” were just a few of the words that came to attendees’ minds at the start of the virtual Reframe and Reclaim event Wednesday evening.
Rakeem Robison started off the night by asking people what words best reflected the atmosphere of the space created for the event.
Robinson, a 26-year-old graduate student in the college of journalism and research fellow with the Center of Public Interest Communication, was writing a paper on feminism and the experiences of Black women when the idea first trickled into his head. He was inspired by his mother and how he believed she was perceived by the world as a Black woman. He knew other Black women shared similar experiences, and after studying this topic and exploring what opportunities UF had to offer, the concept of Reframe and Reclaim was born.
“After a few conversations a couple of semesters ago, [I] came up with the idea of offering a space for telling narratives,” he said. “To tell stories of the things that Black women are doing, or allowing them the space to really paint a clear picture of what it means to be them and the way that they navigate different spaces.”
The University of Florida Counseling and Wellness Center (CWC) hosted the event for Black women to share their experiences through selections of their own prose and poetry on Zoom.
Speakers discussed sensitive topics ranging from anti-Black racism on UF’s campus to “code-switching,” where Black women feel pressured to change their dialect and the way they act in certain settings. Resources for Black students were also included during the event, including services provided by UF CWC and Academics for Black Survival and Wellness.
Robinson said as a first-generation student, he is grateful for the opportunity UF has provided to jumpstart this new initiative.
“I didn’t think that opportunities like this would be able to be accessed,” he said. “I identify as a Black male, and to be able to create and present such a space for Black women is mad encouraging to me– to realize that we are all fighting the same fight and we have to fight alongside one another,” he said.
Robinson said the name of the event was created by Rosa West, Ph.D. and Ebony Okafor, Ph.D. at CWC, who believed Reframe and Reclaim reflected the ways in which Black women must take charge of the spaces projected onto them.
“Something that sets this particular event apart is that the speakers and those who are allowing themselves to be vulnerable by sharing their stories, we're creating the space for them to get to know one another,” he said, “but also to collaborate outside of this space, allowing the spaces for dialogues for people who are affected in any kind of capacity about or in response to the event or individual speaker, to kind of engage with them and let them know what it is that they're feeling, calling them to a new standard of change.”
While Robinson does not necessarily believe there is a lack of awareness in the community, he said there’s more to be done to support Black women and give them an outlet to share their stories and nurture one another. Instead of directly addressing the disconnect in the community, he said individuals must take action. He added that the CWC is a great vessel for change because it can provide mental health services that are not always readily available everywhere.
Ciera Garrison, a 23-year-old fourth-year sociology major at UF, was a guest speaker at the event. She said that while there’s available support for individuals, many Black women may not feel comfortable sharing their experiences and asking for help. Garrison hopes that Reframe and Reclaim becomes a way for Black women to find comfort in seeking support and guidance from one another.
“I guess [some] are not as comfortable with asking for help,” she said. “Feeling as if they have to live up to a certain expectation or have a certain style or a certain political [belief] or a certain vocab in order to gain acceptance.”
Garrison heard about the different services CWC provided for Black students, and she knew she wanted to help by contributing her own thoughts to Reframe and Reclaim.
“I just wanted to be involved, to be heard, and to just dedicate anything that I could to the program,” she said. “I have a lot to offer from experience. I just wanted to tell my story so that other people can be able to relate, or that Black women can be able to relate.”
Garrison read her narrative piece “Unchained” which represents the art of being free from “past trauma,” “toxic exposure” and “mental bondage” and being able to move forward without having these negative experiences define who you are as a person.
“If you apply yourself and do things you didn’t think you could do, it helps you to realize just how strong you are, and how dedicated and determined and efficient you really, really are, underneath all of the lies that you've always told yourself as a result of the things that you've been exposed to,” she said. “Learning to be unchained mentally, emotionally, physically, financially and in all capacities of your life is my narrative, and I live in it today.”
Garrison drew her inspiration from her experiences growing up and watching the Black women around her. To her, it seemed as though they all settled for the bare minimum, which she believes can carry over into future generations’ lives.
“I never want for that to be my story,” she said. “I hope to see beyond that. That is the art of unchained.”
At the conclusion of her narrative, she hoped everyone involved in the making of Reframe and Reclaim would leave knowing that being voiceless is never the answer.
“I want for other women to take it and be dignified in everything that they do, learning how to walk upright and stand firm in their character, and just take who they are and apply it in all the right places,” she said. “I definitely want to spread hope.”
Robinson hopes to extend the event beyond this year and hopes audience members will take away the intended messages of the speakers’ pieces, whether it be change, engagement or challenging ones’ own mindset.
“I don't know what all may come from this event, but I think it can impact the speakers and give them more courage and allow them to take hold of the platform that they've been entrusted with.”
Contact Bryce at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @brycebrownnn.