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"I'm creating a space I would have needed back then" a conversation with Yasmine Jameelah of Transparent and Black

This month, we had the pleasure of speaking with Yasmine Jameelah of Transparent and Black.  Transparent and Black is a wellness collective creating spaces for Black people to heal from intergenerational trauma. The collective includes Transparent Black Girl and Transparent Black Guy and is based in New York City, NY.  

Tell us about yourself… what is your background and where were you when Transparent and Black came to its genesis?

In my senior year of college, I was battling depression and social anxiety. Many people say that college is supposed to be the time of your life, but that wasn’t the case for me. I was battling depression and social anxiety and I started seeking out therapy. Therapy helped me deal with the things I was experiencing at that time - the anxiety, my childhood, and some of the environmental traumas I was facing. 

At that time (2015-2016), blogs were very popular. I began writing a blog mostly about me and my life, and black women in particular were engaging with it. I wanted to give back to the black women who were engaging with my written work. I felt like there were so many women that inspired me and I wanted to build a place to honor them, and that's how I started Transparent Black Girl, that was over six years ago. 

From there, I started to feel this nudge that said “Let's go a little bit deeper with this work”, so  I started Transparent Black Guy which is a space for black men. And then I started to get that same nudge to go a bit deeper again, so we formed a collective to address specific things as a community that I feel are barriers of entry to wellness for Black and Brown people. Those barriers of entry specifically being: lack of access to public pools, therapy, and doulas. We address those issues both internationally and within the United States. 

That's how we now have the collective Transparent and Black.

I’m curious, why pool access?

I’ve been swimming since I was maybe four or five years old. My father taught me how to swim, but it was something in my family that was not “normal”. A lot of black folks don't really know how to swim it, it's a thing. It was a joke growing up in my family, “black folks don't swim” but what it really was was that we were systemically barred from pools in this country.

And so while I was learning how to swim as a little kid, I had a cousin who died, he drowned at the beach.

It created this divide where there was one side of my family that was encouraging me to swim but there was another side that was very fearful of me swimming. I was able to talk with my cousin's mom and talk with her about what that journey was like losing her son. We were the same age when he died.  So I was very excited about swimming, but was also raised with the reality of losing my cousin who was very young like myself, and how real it is.

 

It sounds like T&B allows others to have a safe space to be themselves. For yourself, what does it mean to build a safe space?

It means everything to me. It was important for me as I was sharing my journey of wellness to create that same space for others to be vulnerable. Community is at the core of that. 

I think as an empath and as someone who has experienced a great amount, especially in my early twenties, of trauma and anxiety, I wanted to create spaces where people did feel safe but also prioritized. When I started going to therapy and becoming immersed in wellness I didn't see a lot of myself, but I would have black women and even black men inboxing me saying they wanted to go to therapy, but they didn't know where to start they didn’t know where to find a black therapist. So when we started hosting events, black therapists would be on a panel talking about how to get started with therapy how to find a black therapist how to fix their filters on Psychology Today to find people how to use Insurance how to understand sliding scales.

Especially with Transparent Black Guy because I felt like black women, we have so many opinions about black men -  but I wanted to create a special space for them, even if they didn't immediately come around to it, even if it was a slower build than Transparent Black Girl. It was important to me, for the men to have that space that’s for them by them.

When was a time in your life when you could have used a safe space?

I think about my childhood and what I needed then. I was a very shy girl, and still am in many ways at almost 31 years old.  I think when I was dealing with depression and dealing with anxiety and just different experiences that I was navigating especially during college, I felt by myself. 

When I started Transparent Black Girl, I was 23. I was just coming out of college I had navigated a lot of depression and social anxiety while I was in school. I was trying to make friends but dealing with a lot of baggage from my childhood. My father was incarcerated while I was in college so I was navigating trying to make friends, and visiting my dad on the weekends. I was not in the best relationship at the time, I was gaining weight, feeling depressed, and feeling like I didn’t have a community.

I think I was always yearning for community, I think for me I've tried to prioritize what would I have needed back then through Transparent and Black.

How did you start community building?

Our community started growing online with Transparent Black Girl. We were doing these positive memes. I remember a few years back I saw this meme on a different account that was like “me, my stress, my bills, my anxiety” and I thought: “This is negative. Why are they posting this?” And so I posted one that was like “me, alkaline water, my flourishing savings account, my grandma's prayers”. I was just positive about it. I posted it, went to the gym, and then I came back that post had like a thousand likes and I was like, “This is strange” and my following went from a thousand to 5,000 to 10,000 and 20,000. So I thought “Okay if I'm garnering this attention, let’s see where this can go” This was after we had been a brand for almost a year.

I felt like if we're garnering this attention then I need to make sure that we take it seriously and that we get started on building community. And so from there, I connected with physical therapists, online trainers, and therapists and built a community from there. 

I think that's the powerful part about being online. We have so many discussions about how toxic the internet can be,  I think if you shape your algorithm, you can determine what your online community is.  I try to focus on the great things that have happened on social media. I know so many brands that have done beautiful things with their platforms

The Internet has been a huge part of our community building because we’ve been able to reach folks all over. Of course, we have our larger community which is in New York City, but we've been able to reach women all across the country, due to social media.

What are some roadblocks you faced when forming Transparent and Black? How did you overcome them?

Funding has definitely been a roadblock for sure. Black women are starting businesses faster than any racial group, but the amount of funding whether it be crowdfunding or Venture Capital,  has been difficult. We've had support but not nearly enough as we need. It can feel frustrating when you have these ideas that you want to work on and that you're passionate about but feel like you don't have the resources to do.

There were definitely times when I felt like a failure because I wasn't able to accomplish things as quickly as I thought especially in the scope of social media. I ask myself constantly: “How can I practice wellness for myself as a CEO as I build this brand?”

How do you practice wellness as a CEO?

I would say honestly patience has been the best practice for me. 

Patience is required, especially when we're talking about systemic issues that have been in place for hundreds of years, we can't fix those problems overnight. Slow change is still change. I also like to keep in contact with the people who continue to support us and support our work.

Also boundaries! I update my socials [about my personal life]  as it feels comfortable. Transparency doesn't mean that you have to share everything. I won't lie and say that healing has not been a painful journey, but there's also been so much joy that I've found along the way and so I try to share those moments too. Healing work can be difficult, but it can be very joyful. It can also be very exciting to see yourself transform into a new person - a happy person, a person that's valuing themselves, a person that you don't recognize anymore, but in a good way.

What has most surprised you about starting T&B?

Honestly, the support surprised me. I was enjoying the process of falling in love with wellness and truly understanding, or at least trying to understand, what it means to be well. Truthfully  I did not see any of this for myself. I thought I would just have a small community online.

For myself, as a Christian woman, because my faith is a part of my wellness journey, I think that's what showed me that this was my true purpose. This is something that God ordained for me to do and so through that, it has comforted me in those moments when I feel doubt.

Do you have any advice for folks out there wanting to engage their community but unsure how to start?

Start by asking the questions, and having a conversation. Truly build with them, not for them. 

I would do something every week called Transparent Tuesdays. We would talk about different topics and  I would ask our community what they wanted from us. I was essentially recreating my own focus group. I’d ask questions like: What events do you want to see? What's interesting to you? What things are you passionate about?

What would you change about the current conversation about wellness? What would you like to add to it?

I think one of the things that I feel like we saw in the pandemic was how much people were talking about how Black health needed to be prioritized and how much Black wellness spaces were needed and I feel like that stopped. To be honest with you, I feel like it was a very short-lived conversation. I would like to see more change in that way. I'd like to see more funding for Black wellness companies. I'd like to see even more diversity in those spaces - not just one type of black person, but body diversity,  color diversity,  all of those things. And more support that's not tied to ROI. Deep support, that's genuine and that is helpful.

Where do you see Transparent and Black in the next five years?

I love that question. I see Transparent and Black in the next five years solving those three chords of work that are really important to us. One of the things that's been important for us is opening up a studio, so I see that for us. I see deeper community building for us, our brands flourishing individually and our collective being a strong whole.

What does Transparent and Black mean to you?

Transparent and Black means that conversations about Black wellness are changing and that we're being prioritized. Wellness has always been in my space. I just didn't necessarily realize that it was.

For example, I've been doing yoga since I was 15 years old and the environment did not look like me. I was always the only black girl and was often the only person of color and I think for me to now have the opposite experience, and to see so many Black people opening their minds to different expressions of wellness. It means that we're beginning to understand truly how important it is to reclaim a space in wellness.  I don't think it's a new space for us. I think that the great thing about Black History Month and learning - is that we realize we’ve always had a space in wellness. For example, did you know that a Black woman helped start Pilates in the United States?

So for me, I think if this is an opportunity for us to understand that much of the practices that we are doing now, they're not new, they are practices that were stripped from us.

Transparent and Black is an environment where we can reclaim wellness - I think that we're decolonizing our well-being and that we're having fun while doing it too. So I'm really excited about that.

A final question from Dig Deeper: What motivates you to keep going?

What motivates me to keep going? Remembering my purpose - this work called me, I did not ask for it. I thought I’d be an attorney, that was my goal when I went to college and all I ever dreamed about growing up, but wellness found me, and on the journey to building this company, I discovered that my great-grandmother spent much of her life in a mental hospital. That realization showed me that this work was meant for me, that in my lineage healing was needed and not just for myself but to create healing spaces for the Black community. This work is ancestral, it’s intergenerational, and it’s divine. 

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