Let the Black Women Say Asé

Framing is the power to shape a person’s perception of reality. The media has that power, taking the experiences of individuals and communities and interpreting what those narratives mean. Sometimes the narratives can be powerful, accurate, and true. Many times they are not.

Several years ago, I decided to confront the way endarkened people are framed. We would tell stories about our origins, and what we have endured, on our own terms, without whiteness determining how we should tell those stories.

I launched a project called ReDEFINING to offer different narratives about culture, race, sexuality, humanity, women, undocumented immigrants, beauty, and religion. I invited people to submit stories that addressed intersections. We published nine stories.

In 2017, I launched Kinky Curly Theological Collective (KCTC) to bring Black Christian women together to think about theology. I was serving as a volunteer pastor. So many faith-based institutions I had been involved in had dismissed Black women’s knowledge and expertise about the Bible. I was called “too angry” one Sunday morning when I challenged the mostly white congregation about the murders of Black men at the hands of police.

I wrote an essay about the pattern I encountered numerous times, which eventually became part of my first book.

Here is an excerpt from my book The Gospel According to a Black Woman (2020).

You say to yourself, “Maybe this place will be safe. Maybe they will accept me even if they don’t understand every bit of me.” You expose a little of yourself — vulnerability and honesty for the sake of growth, relationships, and genuine transformation. You hold your breath and wait.

And then it happens, like you knew it would. Words are exchanged and you wonder what just transpired. You question yourself, saying, “I thought this was a place of learning and sharing, a place where a mature exchange of ideas could take place even if others did not agree.” The silence and distancing prove to you it’s not.

Sadness sets in and it hurts like hell. The sentiment is familiar, and that provokes a sense of anger because the same scenario plays itself out repeatedly. No matter how careful, how polite, how accommodating, and how understanding you try to be, it keeps happening.

You say to yourself, “Next time I will mind my place.” But don’t do that. Don’t let this beast, this burden, this curse of white supremacist patriarchy silence you. Even if no one is listening, refuse to be silent about your pain and oppression. Refuse to be silent about the suffering of many at the hands of a few.

The cycle continues. At least it will, until you get off the damn wheel and break it.

The Birth of Aya Collective

Creating KCTC was one of the ways that I got off the damn wheel. It still took another year to find my confidence and trust my voice. In the space of that year, Jamar Clark’s killers were acquitted, our family bought our first home, the shooting at the Pulse Nightclub happened, Philando Castile was killed, there was an uprising in Milwaukee over the police murder of Sylville Smith, my step-grandfather passed away, and I started a new job with the City of Minneapolis the day after 45 was elected president. My stress level was on one hundred, and I could feel the impact on my body.

I birthed KCTC in 2017 as an act of desperation. I needed to find an outlet for the harm that I was enduring across the institutions that I labored in. A few months later, I convened the first group of Black women. By 2018, we were writing and meeting together. We had a community event to show off the pieces we had been working on.

In 2020, I sat at Golden Thyme coffee shop in Saint Paul, mapping out how this story might unfold. I put together the themes we had worked on over the years and started developing a curriculum called “Fragmented and Whole.” I called for Black women to be a part of a five-month cohort. Then the pandemic shut us down, and George Floyd was murdered in our city.

Despite the barriers we encountered, I was determined. KCTC was renamed the Aya Collective, so that we were not wedded to theology in our interaction. With a new call, I received 24 inquiries from Black women who were interested in joining a writing cohort.

We spent time playing around with ideas. Someone suggested we title the future book And Let the Black Women Say Amen. To further ensure that folks were not tripped up over religious language, it evolved instead into using the term Asé [a Yoruba concept representing the power that makes things happen].

Let the Black Women Say Asé is a summation of years of dreaming, multiple lifetimes of experience, and ancestral knowing. It is a reflection of who we are as a collective — descendants of the African continent, some of us with memories of enslavement in our bones, some of us with memories of colonization and war. We represent a variety of spiritual and faith practices. We are of different ages, different sexual orientations, and live in different places across the United States. Some of us are young, and many of us have gray hair and cellulite. All of us are fly as hell.

We believe, beyond the diversity and plurality among us as Black-identified women, that we can validate each other’s worldviews, even if our own convictions and principles look different. We stand as a collective, united in the call to elevate stories that are housed inside each of us.

Ebony Aya (she/her) is author of The Gospel According to a Black Woman (2020) and editor of the anthology Let the Black Women Say Asé (2022). ayamediapublishingllc.com