Twenty minutes into the opening ceremony of the Black Feminisms Forum, I was in tears. The crying was a necessary thing; the natural consequence of an overflow of feelings too overwhelming to contain. The ceremony started while I was at breakfast and I rushed out when I heard the drums. Nothing could have prepared me for what I was running towards: Dida, a dazzling band of drummers, magnificent women all, filling the sleepy Costa do Sauipe resort with the sound of celebration. Black feminists in every shade, beaming with a type of bliss that I will never be able to forget. Osun’s blessings invoked with bells and singing in the deep quiet that followed. Looks of wonder making their way from face to face to face, all of us awed by all of us. Someone asked me to describe the forum to them a day or two after it ended. My response was, “There are no words.”
The Black Feminisms Forum (BFF), the brainchild of a ‘multi-generational, cross-movement and geographically diverse’ working group of 14 African and/or Afro-descendant feminists, was a co-created event hosted by the Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID) in Bahia, Brazil from 5 to 6 September. I am certain the organisers knew what they wanted to achieve, but I suspect they have no idea what they have started. They brought together over 200 black feminists and gave us a safe space to network, strategise and connect; the history books will recount the impact that this affirming, healing and re-energising experience will have on our ability to keep pursuing justice in the face of daunting odds.
And the odds are so daunting that when we were asked during a panel to share the futures we are working towards, not many of us could fully articulate our dreams. The introspective silence that filled the room in the wake of that question was indicative of the scale of what we are up against. Our daily lives play out under the weight of systems designed to exclude, erase and violate us, and the mere task of surviving can be enough to weary the mind past the point of a joyful or expansive imagination. But I’m sure that the world that I and the other black feminists at the forum want for ourselves and future generations looks a lot like the one that was made available to us on those two days.
Black feminists across a broad spectrum of gender identities, sexual orientations, abilities, classes and ages came together to see and be seen, hold and be held, affirm and be affirmed. I can still hear the sound of hundreds of voices raised in solidarity to chant resistance cries from across the globe; Brazil to Egypt to the Caribbean to America. My skin prickled as I viewed the exhibition put together by Nsoromma; art made by Sabriya Simon, Sokari Ekine, Mimi Cherono Ng’ok and Nadijah Robinson which represented blackness in incredibly glorious ways. I remember the collective sighs and sounds of assent as we listened to Akwaeke Emezi, D’bi Young Anita Afrika and Yvonne Fly Enagheme Otakeme speak on our shared histories and realities, both temporal and spiritual. The BFF obliterated the margins; we wrote ourselves into the narrative.
Of course it wasn’t all glitter and sunshine. People are still people, and coming from different contexts while trying to pin down a shared vision will inevitably lead to tension. Even in spaces where safety is a stated goal, power can manifest itself in toxic ways. As we came to learn from our trans and intersex comrades as well as from the frictions between feminists in the global north versus the global south; we still have much decolonising work to do. Yet, it was heartwarming to witness the calling out of unconscious ways of thinking; the calling in to love and inclusion as often as was necessary. I will never forget the constant reminders spoken into the mic by organisers and attendees alike that we were all valid, valued, valuable; the continued effort to translate that idea from a lofty goal into daily, hourly practice. The space was love; the kind that soars and uplifts but also goes down into the dark and ugly places to uproot. The uncomfortable kind. The courageous kind. The healing kind.
The BFF gave me my tribe, gave me a chance to bond over revelations of selves and the innate knowing of spirits recognising one another. I stood next to people with whom I shared neither language nor immediate history and saw in them whole chunks of myself. I marvelled at the preservation of my culture, the unabashed naming and veneration of Gods that my own people across the Atlantic had opted to continue to forget. I felt my wounds lanced by rituals that these people had kept alive, rituals that had kept them alive, through generations of violence and displacement and relentless trauma.
There was mind work; exchanging of wisdom, ideas and—perhaps not as much as many of us would have liked—strategies. But for many of us, the Black Feminisms Forum was spirit work. It was the building, the reinforcement, of our full selves. I felt it in my body as we ate together, laughed together until the early hours, stared in shared, worshipful silence at the expanse of sea that separated and united us, danced together. And oh, how we danced! Limbs loose and free, joyfully and unapologetically taking up space, exulting in the absence of the requirement that we be silent, revelling in the reminder that we can be loud and safe at the same time.
For me, the Black Feminisms Forum was about being led gently into myself and my possibilities. It took me to a place full of the brilliance, the magic, the power of all the things I have been told we cannot be yet somehow manage to surpass, supplant and supersede. It was about ife; being deeply wanted; ifunnanya; being truly seen. It was about finding a way through the darkness into the things that I know to be true without knowing how. It reminded me that I am the furthest thing from alone. We are here. We always will be. And, to quote Abyan Mama, more of us are coming.