Self

Black Girls Book Club On The Joy & Endurance Of Black Sisterhood

“I’ve learnt that through every success and every heartbreak, I wouldn't have been able to make it without my sisters.”

By Natalie A Carter and Melissa Cummings-Quarry

We’ve all been there. We’ve walked into an office, hands clammy and nervous, wondering if we’re going to be the only melanated sister in the room. But then we lock eyes with another sista who gives us the nod, and it’s that what gives us instant relief. Black sisterhood, in all its forms, is an unbreakable bond between Black women. Being Black in Britain can be isolating, and many of our struggles boil down to a lack of understanding, micro-aggressions, racism, having lack of opportunities, and being seen as not enough. We’re branded “aggressive” or “angry Black women” but when Black women come together, we create lemonade. Melissa Cummings-Quarry & Natalie A Carter are the two women behind Black Girls’ Book Club, a book club designed to be a safe space for young Black women in the UK. The duo host regular events for hundreds of Black women, with headliners such as Roxane Gay and Malorie Blackman. Their goal? To rise above the marginalisation and secondary treatment from brands and corporate organisations, by creating a space for their own to feel comfortable in authenticity. Ahead, the authors of Grown: The Black Girls’ Guide To Glowing Up, each pen a short essay on what the joy of Black sisterhood means to them and why a solid Black support system can have a positive impact on young Black women today.

Melissa Cummings-Quarry

Sisterhood [ˈsɪstəhʊd]

NOUN

  1. the relationship between sisters.
  2. an association, society, or community of women linked by a common interest, religion, or trade.

Ask most people the meaning of sisterhood and they will describe the close relationships you form in the school yard over whispered secrets and notes shared during class, splitting chicken and chips after school, skying your BFFs fizzy drink and sleepovers with your friends. As you get older, the written notes become rambling voice notes, and chicken and chips becomes bottomless brunch with a glass of chilled Prosecco as a replacement for fizzy pop. But ultimately, the foundations are all the same. Sisterhood is an unbreakable, almost spiritual bond. Yes, I’ve had many friends and acquaintances but there are very few people I can call a sister.

Your sister doesn’t have to be someone you are connected to by blood but for me my very first experience of sisterhood was with someone who shared my last name. My cousin Jadine was born just a year apart from me. The first granddaughters after a very long line of boys, our sisterhood was solidified as soon as the midwife told my Aunty she was having a girl.

We were inseparable and as thick as thieves. Going to a predominantly white primary school meant I would ache for weekends and school holidays where Jadine and I would spend time together – it was the one time I truly felt I could be myself. Our sisterhood wasn’t just rooted in summers spent discussing secret crushes, whining our waists to the newest dancehall CD, braiding each other's hair or imitating the patois spoken by our parents when they didn't want us to know what they were discussing. The foundation of our sisterhood was so much stronger than that. It was in the unwavering support and loyalty we had for one another. The knowledge that no matter where we were or what we did we had a place to call home in each other’s heart.

When my sister Yasmin was born it was exactly the same. Despite the fact that she had a bedroom of her own, we grew up with our parents insisting we shared a room and a bed. Every night under my parents watchful eyes we would hug each other until we fell asleep. If I protested they would always say the same thing: “You are sisters, all you have is each other, love each other, be kind to one another, look after one another, and let nothing break you apart.” As we got older this mantra was never far from our minds.

Sisterhood is an unbreakable, almost spiritual bond.

You see, Yasmin isn't just my sister. She’s my soulmate. She’s that one person who “gets” me. She cares for me like a big sister and at times she can be like my mother! But the relationship I have with her goes beyond friendship or family ties. She’s like my guardian angel – looking after me and supporting me. Helping me to achieve my goals in the way that only someone who truly loves you can. She is my safe space and the one person I can turn to when the world seems too much.

My grandmother, aunties and mother ushered me into womanhood by quietly preparing me for life as a Black woman. Whether it was keeping it real with me or just letting me know that I was seen, and my experiences were not all in my head. It was in their arms that the meaning of sisterhood transcended to a verb from a noun.

Sisterhood was knowing that I did not have to worry about myself because my sisters were always watching over me. My only responsibility was to do the same for them. It was in this vein that Black Girls Book Club was founded. What was originally meant to be a cheeky brunch with Natalie and myself has transformed into the UK’s top literature events platform, our book Grown: The Black Girls’ Guide to Glowing Up and a sisterhood of over three thousand women who have attended one of our events.

Despite the rapid changes, the mission has always been the same – in a world that tells you you’re too much whilst simultaneously showing you that you’re not enough, we wanted to create a safe haven for young Black women to feel seen and to make fellowship with one another. Often women are taught to be secretive and to never show their cards or in layman's terms to “trust no b*tch”. But if anything, I’ve learnt that through every success and every heartbreak I wouldn't have been able to make it without my sisters.

Natalie A Carter

Black sisterhood is my sustenance. This is the only way of life I have known and I would not tolerate a life without it. Growing up, whether I was at church, at school or with my family, I was surrounded by other Black girls who I enjoyed being close with. Even when we fell out (which we often did), we came back to each other because, even at such a young age, we knew that our sisterhood was worth more than a disagreement or a small disappointment between us. I learnt that the bond between me and my sisters was integral to my existence as a young confident Black girl. Here, things about me didn’t need to be explained because they were understood.

Grasping how important something is when you have it in abundance is hard until that very thing is taken away. As I moved to grammar school, to university, and to the corporate world, the amount of Black women in the spaces I occupied sharply decreased. Suddenly I was hyper visible and I felt alone. Black women have a way of seeking each other out in circumstances where they are the minority and this kept me sane as I occupied these majority white spaces. If I was the only Black woman in my class, I knew I could leave and go to our regular spot in the library and meet my sisters. We didn’t over engineer it, it was just how we were. If I saw a Black girl I hadn’t seen before, I had no shame in going out of my way to extend my sisterhood to her. If she accepted, she was a new sister welcomed into our comfort zone. My sisterhood gave me a relief I struggle to put into words. Experiencing these validating friendships made me want to be a conduit of this same feeling of belonging to any other Black women I met.

I want all Black women and Black girls to have the joy of Black sisterhood in abundance and to experience the affirmation of being seen in the books they read.

When I didn’t have the confidence or the emotional capacity to reach out and form new bonds, I found solace in reading, whether it was reading fictional stories about The Colour Purple’s Celie building a loving bond with Sug or Maya defining her own path or Cupcake succeeding against all odds, I read these stories as if they were a personal conversation between me and these women. I took their determination and channelled it into my own daily struggles. I felt seen in these stories as I could see beyond my immediate circumstances and I could accept and love myself for who I was in that moment.

This is why Black Girls Book Club was created. To create the safe space for other Black women that sustained me through some of the hardest times of my life. The purpose of writing Grown was to give Black British girls the experience of sisterhood we had created in Black Girls Book Club for a younger generation. I want all Black women and Black girls to have the joy of Black sisterhood in abundance and to experience the affirmation of being seen in the books they read. Through Black Girls Book Club and Grown we can make sure that every Black woman and Black girl we interact with can feel the sisterhood that has kept me during my womanhood.