I’m not much of a joiner. Never have been. From Girl Scouts to group athletics to sororities, I’ve always managed to sidestep any activity that relied on prolonged social interaction with others. (Remember: angry black introvert over here.) But recently, I resisted instinct and started a secret writing group on Facebook. Being five years removed from my MFA program and after spending just as long in the boonies of the midwest, far removed from the East Coast literary circles to which I’d grown accustomed, I realized that if I wanted to grow creatively, I’d have to extend myself far beyond what I consider to be comfortable. The group sought to join women from my graduate writing program with other indie writers I knew who were working on creative projects and could use objective feedback. By design, all of us understood what it was to be isolated, either by our personalities, our locations, or our day jobs. And the group gave us the chance to revisit the long-past comparative carefree days of college.
Last Friday, when the news of author Erica Kennedy’s death broke, a chorus of online voices emerged, outing themselves as members of a carefully curated online group Kennedy initiated. And it became even clearer why private communities of dynamic like-minded women are so important.
With all the talk of how the internet is becoming an increasingly vicious space, where trolling and anonymous threats of violence are par for the course, it’s easy to forget the late ’90s/early aughts era of chat rooms and message boards, designed for the sole purpose of uniting people who should meet–regardless of the span of miles, the lack of funds, and the restrictive commitments that hinder their introductions.
With an aggressive defense against antagonism, a gatekeeper willing to protect the group from unproductive discourse, and members who are all acting in the interest of a common goal, a secret sisterhood society can still be a wonderful idea.
There is no more resounding evidence of this than Kennedy’s legacy. Consider the comments of lawyer and writer Carolyn Edgar, regarding her involvement in Kennedy’s online collective:
Erica is completely, 100% responsible for my presence on Facebook, Twitter, blogging, etc. over the last five years – and I don’t even know where she came from. I was a nobody on Facebook. I wasn’t blogging. I wasn’t on Twitter. I was just random me – unknown me – a lawyer and frustrated writer who had written a few Facebook Notes that I figured no one but my close friends read anyway. And somehow I got invited to join this secret group of women, by a woman I’d never heard of before.
I bought her first book after I was invited to join the group, but honestly I was baffled. What did I have in common with this group of women? Why me? In our group – which was less of a “secret society” than a carefully curated group of women who were connected in ways only Erica had the foresight to understand – the selection criteria was simply Erica’s genius.
Poet, writer and mental health advocate Bassey Ikpi has similar musings:
Erica Kennedy is the reason that my work and my writing and my life with bipolar II disorder was taken off
my little blog and put on The Root and My Brown Baby and Ebony and Huffington Post and all the other places you’ve seen it in writing. Her ability to tap into your fear and then allow you no excuses to shy from doing “it” (whatever “it” was) was a gift. She was a visionary. She was revolutionary in the way she approached life and work and friendships and networking.
Patrice Grell Yursick (better known as esteemed beauty blogger and cosmetic creator Afrobella) echoes:
I didn’t join a sorority in college, but when Erica reached out to me and connected me with her magical group of friends, I pretty much joined hers and I was beyond honored to do so. Because of Erica Kennedy, I am friends with an incredible group of women spanning ages, interests, and ethnicities. These women are like my sisters, and we draw tremendous strength from each other. Erica handpicked a tribe and when she welcomed you into her tribe, you knew you were amongst intelligent, savvy, real, COOL people.
Community is such a necessary thing–particularly for women of color. And sometimes it thrives most when it is carefully cultivated, rather than spontaneously or randomly achieved.
Have you ever thought about creating a collective of women allies? Have you ever been invited to join one?