The ability to commit violence (by word or deed) is not a strength. True strength is exhibited in our self-control. How we maintain discipline over our own tongue and actions. Not how we curtail other people.
Avoid becoming stuck as your worse self by:
Reimagining who you are
– Who have you always been?
– Who do you want to be?
– Who do you want to be nothing like?
Reimagining your environment
– How did your surroundings impact your character and personality grieving up?
– What aspects do you want to cultivate in your space moving forward?
Reflect on your actions and reactions – good, bad, ugly, & embarrassing.
Thought experiment: Project the idea of your best self into the idea of your best environment. What’s the first step in getting you there in reality?
If you are striving to be the best version of yourself but you keep surrounding yourself with people who bring out the worse in you, you will find your strength when you walk away from the people and environments that keep you at your worse.
You have a choice in how you live. Are you going to grow consciously in the direction of the person you want to be? Are you consciously releasing the person you don’t want to be?
Disappointments by family and friends can have life-altering and personality-changing impact. My most painful disappointments have helped refine my faith and how I view my abilities and capabilities. There is no level or area of human interaction that has not led to disappointment in my life. Still I would not trade any disappointment I’ve experienced for any amount of temporary satisfaction. Even being an orphaned aging single woman without children has its blessings on the long backend of life.
Without monumental disappointments throughout life – childhood rape, death of mother, inability to afford college, rejection by love interests, lack of corporate upward mobility, threatening racists neighbors – my faith would be nothing. Without adversity faith is only a whimsical word. Without the strengthening of my faith, I would be a flimsy woman.
It was because of my childhood abuse that I began writing regularly to God in my dairy. I wrote the prayers I cried myself to sleep with. My journaling remains a prayer and conversation with my Creator today.
My mother knew every shadowy and lit corner of my soul, yet she loved and stood with me. When she died it was truly akin to losing a part of myself. After four years of deep grief, I began looking for a way to gift her on the other side of life with all the pent up love I have for her.
It was through my conversation, prayers and journaling with my Creator that I received my first practical lesson on gifts of the spirit not being restricted to this temporal frame. I wanted to give my deceased mother a gift of love and the instruction I received was to forgive my rapists, one of whom was her husband and my dad. I put my forgiveness in action with a call to him, then spent a few years trying to build a relationship with him.
Please note: the instruction was to forgive, not to interact or build relationship. Interacting with my dad allowed for many disappointments.
Struggling to acquire a degree with the goal of accessing better employment opportunities kept me at odds with relatives who were content with the status quo of functional poverty.
As I healed my body, mind and spirit, through my teens and twenties, I thought a loving a relationship was only a matter of time. As time marched on, I blamed my inability to connect with men on the abuse I sustained as a child. Speaking with my dad after one disastrous date with an overly aggressive man, triggered me into realizing violators should not have a place of honor in my life. I could forgive him and be cordial but that didn’t mean he needed access to my intimate struggles, especially those rooted in his violence against me.
Looking for someone to love usually leads to overly accommodating users and abusers. Each time I go down the wrong road of attempting to love people unworthy of my devotion, I am reminded that I exposed myself because of my desire for the romanticized version of love the world revels in. However, what is for the world is not for me. Each rejection from a romantic interest had me burrowing deeper into God’s version of love.
The early idealism of economic freedom through education collided harshly with the American Dream of endless corporate opportunities. Even in one of the most freedom-loving cities in the United States, New York City, a Black Woman aspiring beyond a support role is not supported at all. After eleven years with the company and a newly minted master’s degree, being told that my credentials were worth less than a second-year intern for a role I applied for was a painfully stark reminder of the futility of chasing the world’s rewards.
Quitting was liberating. Being unemployed is scary. Having some resources, a great deal of experience, education, and most of all tried-and-tested-faith allows for some confidence in my ability to create my own opportunities.
In 2020, just as Covid-19 was making its way around the world, I was informed that some of my white neighbors in a semi-remote mountain neighborhood outside of Tucson, Arizona, were congregating to discuss “throwing rocks through my windows and burning my home.” Historically speaking, the neighbors were amassing a lynch mob – to terrorize me.
Disappointment as a fuel for rage
I would like to say nothing in my life prepared me for becoming a target for a lynch mob, but if you’ve read this far, you already know everything in my life prepared me for such an atrocious experience.
However, during that period, I battled most with myself. My pride demanded holding the plotting perpetrators accountable. Rage demanded I stand my ground and fight back. They burn me out, the same fire would burn them out. Sifting through such powerful emotions was hard. I knew Arizona was a transitional place for me. Staying only to fight seemed to violate my higher purpose. Ignoring the need to stand up for myself violated my personhood.
At some point I had to calm my rage enough to ask myself questions about the next steps for my life. Was I going to focus on the enemy’s latest distraction or double-down in the work God was performing in my life? What type of energy would be required to respond in kind to the ugly hatred of people who didn’t know me personally but chose to plot against me and my home?
I decided to sell my home and leave Arizona. The test in the process was giving all my rage and uncertainty to God – not allowing rage and fear to control my actions. Letting go – much quicker than in prior situations. Also surrendering all my hopes and plans for my future to my Creator.
I had been desperately trying to line up my next steps. I wanted to know where I was going before I left where I was. That’s what I had done before taking the leap to leave New York City where I had a home, employment with benefits and social outlets. I went from my home in New York to a newly built home in Arizona. Beyond that, nothing planned or hoped for came to fruition in my desert wilderness.
So in leaving Arizona for parts unknown, I was willing to set aside my thoughts for what would work for me. I admitted to not having the slightest idea beyond knowing God’s will for my life is far better than anything I can imagine.
Disappointment contours perspective
All of the major violations in my life have been by people who felt entitled to cause harm and violence against me because they considered me unworthy of my own autonomy. They thought they had controlling rights to my body, voice, time and future. They didn’t think I deserved what I had acquired or what I was reaching for. They held no value for my achievements or my personhood.
All the major non-violent disappointments result from the vagaries of life, things we don’t really have any say over – time of death, human chemistry and the overall impact of human interactions and relationships.
I share all this to say: every painful disappointment (outcome other than what was hoped or prayed for or expected) that has shaped my life (altered trajectory and reality) has driven the roots of my faith deeper into the Spirit of God. Not only am I strengthened with each attack on my life, I also increase in wisdom and confidence.
As Maya Angelou said, I wouldn’t take nothing for my journey now. I wouldn’t trade in the hard knocks and near destructions, nor the rejections and betrayals. They may not yet be seen as opportunities for joy, but they certainly make the joy I have more unshakable. Having survived my life thus far, peace is not some quiet place outside of me. Peace has become an environment within me that I am committed to nurturing and protecting.
Are you the friend you think you are? How do you see yourself in your friendships compared to how your friends see you?
I’m repeatedly reminded that people who don’t love themselves are incapable of giving, receiving or showing love to others. They are sometimes good at faking it, but fakers always expose themselves out of frustration.
One of my biggest beefs with people is their lack of understanding about love. As well as their use of the word as a tool. One truth I’ve learned is that people who don’t love themselves are incapable of loving others. Sometimes it’s best to simply step away from them to avoid being collateral damage from their internal war path.
In this video I share about a recent structural collapse in a long friendship. What resonates with you?
I AM WOMAN: Expressions of Black Womanhood in America is a showcase of the indomitable Spirit of Black Womanhood weaving through generations as cord of strength and wisdom.
Forget the world.
I AM WOMAN is a declaration of existence – without permission.
Everyone is aware of their outward image. Many people spend their lives enhancing their shadow while neglecting their substance. The narratives within I AM WOMAN span five centuries of a powerfully consistent perspective. Despite habitual abuse, neglect, sexual violence, human trafficking, and a stifling minimum of economic opportunities, Black Women have continuously elevated themselves and grown in excellence.
Who Do you say you are?
I AM WOMAN: Expressions of Black Womanhood in America is a triumphant response to centuries of oppression, neglect, and abuse. It’s a tribute to the women in America who are not seen, heard, honored, or appreciated, yet are always relied upon to support every layer of society. This collection of images and words is an expression of how Black Women in America see themselves. Who they believe they are as individuals in private, in public, as a community, and as givers and receivers of ancestral grace.
Comprised of portraits, poetry, essays, and speeches, I AM WOMAN reaches back to Isabel de Olvera who swore an affidavit in 1600 declaring her freedom from marriage and slavery to the deeply inspiring inauguration of Kamala Harris as the first Afro-Asian and Woman Vice President of the United States of America 2021.
Photographed, compiled, and edited by LaShawnda Jones, I AM WOMAN: Expressions of Black Womanhood in America weaves together contributions from Women across the United States throughout the country’s history.
With contributions from dozens of women
I have taken most of my day to read I AM WOMAN, and I can't wait for others to get their hands on it. It is a powerful project that celebrates women and women in history. There is healing on these pages, and I am honored to be part of it. I can't wait to have it in my hands!
Abena AmoahContributing Author
It is filled with inspiring words that fill my soul. The strength behind these words are far more powerful than any physical strength. This has inspired me to stand up for people's basic human rights.
Jesus loves me so much He sent me you!! This is beautiful. Thank you for the time and effort that you put into this. You have totally captured the essence of this project. I can't thank you enough.
Renata Del CarmenEntrepreneur
One book, several formats
Behind the Scenes
We are who we are.
About LaShawnda Jones
LaShawnda Jones is an independent author, photographer and publisher for Harvest Life. Her work focuses on women, spiritual growth, and social justice. She has published several books exploring the impact of childhood sexual trauma in adulthood as well as the challenges and joys of applying principles of faith in all her interactions. She has a B.A in Political Science and French and a M.A. in International Affairs. She has studied in France and Poland in addition to missionary training in New York City and Israel.
LaShawnda Is a member of the RAINN Speaker’s Bureau and is available for speaking engagements nationally. She is also available for photography assignments. Her creative work can be viewed at Harvest-Life.org.
In February 2018, I quit my corporate job with a determination to work and live as a writer and photographer. A few months later, several interests coalesced into a photo essay book idea that has become I AM WOMAN: Expressions of Black Womanhood in America.
I AM WOMAN comes from a desire to give women a platform to say who they are and express their womanhood with no strings or ulterior motives.
Everyday something has tried to kill me
A prime catalyst for launching this project was the state-sanctioned assault by police officers on Chikesia Clemons at a restaurant in Saraland, Alabama. In the video of the assault, two male police officers are seen yanking on her arms to pull her out of her seat and throw her to the dirty floor of the Waffle House she was eating in. They sat on her, threatened to break her arm, choked her, exposed her breasts (she was wearing a halter top), then flipped her around by her neck and belt to put her face down on the ground. A third officer stood over Chikesia and her assailants the whole time. Somehow more disturbing is the fact that the restaurant was full and patrons continued to eat without pause. Without looking. Without objecting. Without demanding the police officers treat the young woman humanely or with a modicum of respect.
Police had been called because Chikesia had asked about a fifty cent charge on her receipt for utensils to eat the food she had purchased. The server took exception to the question and an argument ensued. Chikesia asked for upper management contact information but the police were called instead. Waffle House stood by the actions of their employee and the police violence against Chikesia.
Despite society being inundated with videos of egregious violence against black bodies, seeing male patrons in the background continue eating as if a dehumanizing racial, physical, and sexual assault was not taking place in their presence was beyond infuriating. There is no way I can imagine men of any race sitting so calmly as a white woman is similarly brutalized in their presence. There’s absolutely no precedent for such a visual. Yet it’s so common for Black Girls and Women to be brutalized, a live viewing doesn’t even interrupt a meal.
The only person who tried to help Chikesia was her friend, Canita Adams, another young woman, who helplessly filmed the assault.
Throughout my life, there has certainly been a build-up of understanding as to how little the world values me. The assault on Chikesia came after several years of me trying to break out of an administrative support role at a global bank. I even went back to school for a Master’s degree to make my internal applications more attractive. My high-ranking female manager had the opinion that I should be happy to have a job. I was in a respected support role working for a respected senior executive in a top firm. What more could I possibly want? Certainly not a role that challenged me or working with people I could learn from and grow with. She was not concerned about me leaving because I couldn’t possibly make as much money as I was making working for her. Hearing that was pretty much the nail in the coffin of my corporate career. Realizing my dedication, experience, performance, and education weren’t enough for me to be considered for promotion within a company I had been with for a decade was enough for me to finally walk away. It was made clear my upward mobility was solely dependent on the whim of one person and that person wasn’t me. It was someone who considered my only value to be the service I provided her.
It became painfully evident that there is no environment in which Black Women are seen, respected, or valued as human beings with enough intelligence to form plans for their lives. We are treated as if we have no right to our bodies, our feelings, our thoughts, or our future. We are disregarded as if the past never happened and the present wasn’t created for us. We are constantly told who we are, who we aren’t, who we should be, what’s expected of us, what we can and can’t do, and what’s enough for us. Yet at no point are we able to just be who we are as we want to be.
What’s in a name and a word?
Isabella Baumfree, born into slavery in a Dutch-speaking household in Ulster County, New York, changed her name to Sojourner Truth after converting to Christianity. She said of the change, “Sojourner because I was to travel up and down the land showing people their sins and being a sign to them, and Truth because I was to declare the truth unto the people.” In 1851 she gave the speech she is most famous for, commonly referred to as, “Ain’t I A Woman?” at the Woman’s Rights Convention in Akron, Ohio. More than a hundred years later her words, “Ain’t I A Woman” morphed into a more declarative statement, “I AM A MAN” for Civil Rights campaign signs in 1968. The speech and the sign are clear inspirations for I AM WOMAN: Expressions of Black Womanhood in America.
Overall, in the larger Sisterhood of Womanhood, I know the struggle is universal. Across the United States, no matter what demographic groups we fall into, Women are essentially telling the same story. We aren’t seen. We aren’t valued. We are not respected. We have to fight for any measure approaching equality to a standard set by men. We may have different starting points, but for the most part, we are all chasing the same goals: love, acceptance, appreciation, and respect for our individual wholeness.
I want my work to combat the visceral hyper-sexualization and objectification of womanhood, girlhood and the feminine form everywhere. Closer to home, Black Women and Girls are hyper-sexualized, objectified, used, abused, and discarded without even the acknowledgment or defense of our humanity. On one hand, we’re lauded and imitated as sexual icons, on the other hand we’re reviled for our fertility and physical versatility with no respect for our sacred femininity. It’s such a destructive dichotomy that we can do great harm to ourselves simply trying to figure out how to navigate society for survival.
Societal and media messages destroy us before we can appreciate the need to protect our self-image. Sometimes we’re stunted by our closest family and friends feeding us what they chose to believe from the negative things they were exposed to. Stereotypes, curses, expectations, misunderstandings, traditions, and ignorance are the foundation of many stories that are told about women who rarely have the opportunity to share their point of view. I AM WOMAN is the antithesis to all of that.
My overall goal with I AM WOMAN: Expressions of Black Womanhood in America is to honor Black Women collectively and individually. The perspectives of women who live in a society that is hostile to their existence is necessary to improve life for everyone within that society. It’s exhausting being exposed to what the world thinks of Black Women. What do Black Women think of themselves?
With this on my heart, I narrowed my project focus to my primary audience: Black Women. I set out with a list of questions.
Are you always fully present in your womanhood or do you hold back to move forward?
How do you navigate in or through different spaces?
What does your womanhood mean to you?
Where or how do you find your joy?
How do you nurture your spirit?
Do you use your voice to call out, improve or destroy?
After a few conversations in the field, these questions consolidated to: “What word would you use to describe yourself?”
I AM _______________
This collection belongs to every life it touches. I wanted to produce a book that readers can see themselves in and insert their stories into. To accomplish this, there are pages where the book owner can write themselves into the overarching story.
A call for poetry and essays was met with some very poignant submissions. Several women contributed poems and essays sharing insight into their experiences of womanhood. The intimacy of their sharing led to me adding a storyline collection of my poems which span thirty years.
Though the initial call for written submissions targeted content from Black Women, the complimentary portrait sessions were open to women of all ethnicities. I spent my 2018 summer photographing nearly sixty women in Chicago, Gary, New York City, Milwaukee, Monument Valley, and Phoenix.
The women’s assignment was to represent the word they identify themselves with within their images. Their declarative prompt was, “I AM WOMAN. I am _________________.” Of the written descriptors I received, I’m happy to report “sexy” was never mentioned. The most common words were Strong, Powerful, and Love. They answered with questions, statements, and monologues. Most endearingly, the women answered with their presence and personality. Some of their declarations are preserved on video, but all are sealed in my heart with gratitude.
421 Years of Black Women Using Their Words
It’s incredibly humbling to be able to weave together words from African Women in America throughout the last four centuries. Our struggles, unfortunately, have not changed much through the years. There is no period in which we simply accepted the yoke the world shackles us to. Black Women have never been silent. We have never been inactive in our communities. Despite the abuse, neglect, habitual sexual violence, human trafficking, and a stifling minimum of economic opportunities, we have continued to elevate ourselves and move forward. Even from disadvantaged and unsupported positions, we speak up for ourselves, our communities, and against injustice wherever we see it.
To support what I know in my bones, I began searching for historic instances of Black Women in America speaking up for themselves – using their voices to answer accusations and oppression. Documents, poems, and speeches about, and from, several women who were bold and outspoken in defiance of the time and space they occupied are also shared. This collection serves to amplify how strong and resilient Black Women have always been and continue to be.
Researching documented historical material authored by Black Women was a test of endurance. Fortunately, I was able to locate chronologies of African Americans in general and African American men specifically. Searching for experience-based content by Black Women consumed a good portion of my development focus, but it’s a necessary part of the continuing story of our roots and trajectories, our struggles, and our joys. The way we make do and make better no matter our starting point. We, Black Women, are magnificent in all our statuses, throughout any affliction or oppression, we not only continue to rise, but we also shine. We illuminate our surroundings, and provide routes of escape for others to follow.
A Timeline and A Book List
As I began adding historical figures to this book, it became apparent that we’ve done far too much to cover within the scope of this project. So I created a timeline to acknowledge their lives and their work. The varied richness of their short biography lines is both humbling and encouraging. The timeline is full of authors, poets, abolitionists, singers, educators, organizers, politicians, and leaders. It’s by no means a full list of creative works or published/recorded documents by Black
Women in America, but it is a praise-worthy highlight reel of significant historical works, most of which are in the public domain. Some of the women were prolific writers with multiple publications which are not listed within this work.
Looking Back to Move Forward
I AM WOMAN began as a declaration of my womanhood. It began as a reflection of who I am in conjunction with the awareness of what the world would have me be. As I explored what my womanhood means to me, my internal questions returned me to memories of my mother.
Though she left the physical world nearly twenty-five years ago, my mother’s spirit has never left me. She has remained a consistent guide and teacher in all things love & light. Looking back, I marvel at how she maintained grace, character, and patience throughout a life filled with adversity and hardship. We were a working poor family but we never felt poor because she provided absolutely everything we needed: love, shelter, food & clothes.
Terry Ann was the purest representative of life, love, and nurture. The ultimate provider and doer. A pragmatist who did not allow the flaming arrows flying at her to pin her down She laid the groundwork for a non-judgmental outlook and forgiving spirit to develop within me. She bequeathed me her hard-working, do-what-needs-to-be-done attitude. She instilled a confidence in my inherent value that the world has yet to rob me of. I am who I am, and am becoming who I will be, because of her. She is my most incredible blessing, yet I only knew her from one angle.
Throughout the making of this book, I’ve wondered how my Mom saw herself. For me, womanhood has been a struggle. Learning to view my Mom as a person independent of any labels or identities has helped me become comfortable in the totality of me. Truly looking back to move forward without restraint or apology. This break-through allowed me to show up in different ways to sculpt out the work before me.
Influences during the process
As part of my preparation, I asked to tag-along to events by other creators who were courting Black Women. This allowed space and opportunity to practice my portrait photography and test my concept. These events were awesome and are embedded in this work.
In March 2018, The New School hosted Inequality:An Observance for a Just Future 1619-2019. It was a day-long symposium focused on reflection, connection, workshopping, seeding, and networking. My first version of I Am From… was a workshop activity shared within a group of attendees. A blank template of the poem is included so readers can be contributors also.
In June 2018, Women in the Black hosted their Who’s the Boss Conference in Harlem. In between sessions, I approached women to ask if I could photograph them for my project. This was the beginning of the portrait sessions. A couple of weeks later, I saw Renata del Carmen’s ad about a photoshoot she was hosting in Brooklyn for her Bold, Black Beautiful project. The intention was to create positive stock images of Black Women for multi-media use. I asked if I could shadow her photographer and possibly use some of the images for my project. She, the ladies and the photographer were okay with my request. This group of vibrant women made the book cover.
I’m grateful for all the inspiration and collaboration that has propelled me forward with this heart work. The indomitable spirit of Ancient Black Womanhood prevails in every status we have throughout the world. Whether we are called slaves, servants, employees, women, or leaders, we are aware of our inherent role as birthers, nurturers, and protectors of all humanity. We may have been captured and subjugated, but we’ve never been conquered.
I hope this collection enriches you as much as it has enriched me.
Today I honor my ancestors. I honor all the women who stood and spoke in their power. May they rest well. May we live well as we continue moving forward in the footsteps of giants.
For a few years now, I’ve wanted to do a road trip focusing on historic African American Women. The pillars for me are Sojourner Truth and Harriet Tubman. I’ve been mapping out sites they lived and worked for a while.
Throughout March and April this year, I finally got on the road for an extended trip. This one wasn’t focused on African American Women exclusively, but it was deeply saturated in African American history and culture. However, because I AM Woman is named for one of Sojourner Truth’s speeches, I truly wanted to make sure she was part of this road trip. So Battle Creek, MI was added to my route. I visited a monument dedicated to her and her grave site at Oak Hill Cemetery.
We think of history as being so distant, but standing at Mother Sojourner’s grave site made me very aware that her time was not so long ago.
I am LaShawnda, sister of Kim and Nicolette.
We are daughters of Terry Ann, the daughter of Bessie Mae,
The daughter of Lizzie, the daughter of Mae Emma, the daughter of
I am from coconut oil and bergamot grease
From pinto beans and bananas.
I am from the light.
From home-cooked meals and shadowy corners,
From Thanksgiving feasts are for week-long leftovers.
I am from the iris;
The majestic maple tree,
Whose thick trunk I remember climbing and falling from.
I am from nowhere and everywhere.
From many mothers and no real fathers.
From silence, violence, solitude and perseverance
From hard work tempered with spots of joy.
I am from share-croppers and life-long toilers,
Farmers, gardeners, strong women, and providers.
I’ve been formed through the oppression of my ancestors
The generational resilience of my grandmothers and
The unruffled pragmatism of my Mama.
I am from lies and “keep it in the family”
And God is trying to tell me something
and do unto others as you… well, just do as I say.
I am from stardust and grace, refined in the fire of supernovas.
I am from Gary, Indiana by way of Mississippi and Arkansas
By way of Virginia, South Carolina and Louisiana
By way of Cameroon, Nigeria, West Guinea, and Britain
By way of One Africa seeding the World.
I am from the beginning and the end.
From all that is and all there will ever be.
From salvation and damnation, prophecy and legacy
I am from abundance and sufficiency. I am existence.
My new look is already old. My promo self-portraits for my upcoming book, I AM WOMAN, were taken in March 2020. I finalized the book cover a few months ago and this week I edited my author photo for the book’s bio page. While editing, I decided to add the final cover of the book. Have I told you lately how much I love learning my way around creative tools? A year ago, I struggled trying to combine two photos with any semblance of seamlessness. Look at me now! 🙂
One of the priceless things I’ve learned with editing my own images is to do as much as possible pre-shoot to minimize post-edit work. For example, I love this blouse but it’s always wrinkled. I can iron it, stream it – for this shoot, I actually dampened it a bit and put it in the dryer. I really wanted the pop of color. That being said, removing wrinkles from clothes is an editing level I haven’t gotten to yet and honestly, I’m not really interested right now.
Do yourself a favor as you’re eyeing your subject from behind the lens. What do you see that may require post-edit attention (AND TIME)? Is there anything you can do to correct the image before you capture it?
Another thing I do is take random pictures of things I like with the idea that it may be useful in a composite in the future. As you explore your creativity, nothing is wasted. Your best image may be a combination of multiple images.