by Ronnie Tyler
When Sophia A. Nelson told Lamar and I that she was writing Black Woman Redefined: Dispelling Myths and Discovering Fulfillment in the Age of Michelle Obama, I thought finally someone that truly cares about the lives of black women is going to set the record straight. Sophia A. Nelson, is not only a much sought after speaker, media/political commentator, national columnist, but she is also a champion for black woman who has dedicated her life to help support, uplift and encourage her sisters.
In a time where negative stereotypes and discouraging statistics about black women are constantly being disseminated in the media, Black Woman Redefined provides a refreshing look at the 21st Century strong accomplished black woman. This book “encourages black women to redefine for themselves the important things in life, such as emotional wellness, intimacy, spirituality, and balance which often eludes them in their everyday lives.”
We had the pleasure to interview Sophia A. Nelson about this soon to be released book, Black Woman Redefined:
What inspired you to write this book?
Oh so many things. This book was first born in my heart before I ever wrote it down on paper. I had started the iask organization (I Am My Sister’s Keeper) in May 2004. And the more I talked with girlfriends, colleagues, and sister friends I realized that we were not doing well in our physical and emotional health””despite always appearing so STRONG and TOGETHER. I saw in myself and the black women I admire so much potential for deeper more fulfilling lives that was being blocked and hidden by so much past hurt, disappointment, and religious cover. It was as if many of us were/are the walking dead. I mean that sincerely and with respect. Many of us have forgotten how to live, breathe, love, be intimate, be vulnerable. As one black man said in our focus groups, “many sisters are hammers looking for a nail to drive.” That is powerful and sad all at once. There are others of us though that are thriving and doing well. These sisters live balanced lives. They have it all. They are fine, fabulous and fulfilled all at once. Just like Mrs. Obama. My goal was to dissect, study, probe, and learn from the best and brightest in our community about what works and what does not. How to let go of the things that are blocking our blessings. How to conquer ourselves most of all in this new “Age of Michelle Obama”.
In addition to writing about your relationship and career experiences as a single black professional woman, you actually conducted your own research studies. Can you tell us more about your process of writing this book?
Well the book does touch on some of my personal experiences and my journey as not just a single or professional black woman, but as a human being who now finds herself at mid-life””44 this year””wow! And yes, we commissioned research for the book conducted by thepollingcompany/Woman Trend, one of the best boutique polling firms in the nation. And we worked with Xavier University Professor Dr. Silas Lee on the black male research component. The studies are a good bench mark place to start a national dialogue and conduct more in-depth studies as we go along. Research is terribly expensive. The cost for our studies was over $35,000. But I am pleased with the findings””some surprised me, some confirmed what I already knew to be true. The process itself started with the concept for the book in 2006″”and I did not get a book deal until 2009. The writing and research started 2009-2010. And here we are in 2011 with the finished product.
Who are some of the contributors?
As for the contributors””wow””is all I can say. I am so humbled by the men and women who not only contributed a feature essay or short wisdom for the book “bonus section” after chapter 11, but also to those extraordinary men and women who were interviewed from corporate America, industry. Law firms, medical profession, academia who gave incredible insights and tips for black women of a new generation on how to truly have it all! You can see a list of our celebrity and thought leader contributors on the official book website www.blackwomanredefined.com which is now being redesigned for the official book launch in May.
What can married women learn from your research?
I am proud that in our sample we had about 33% of respondents who were married professional sisters. That number was a bit higher for men in our sample. And the good news is that those who are married are doing pretty well. Contrary to what the media would have you believe. I think we can learn a lot from our married sisters as mentors and guides on our journey to love and marriage. I think married women will learn to have a bit more empathy and support for what their single sister friends are dealing with””that was a big complaint from the singles about how once their girls married and had kids they often got left behind and cut off in some cases. I hope this book will help us come together and to talk more about what we all want, need, and appreciate about one another whether we be married or single. I also think married sisters will be surprised by some of the findings in chapter 3, which deals with our experience in the workplace as black women””once we marry as a group we do better than if we are single””you’ll have to read the book to get more.
Your book provides a glimpse into the lives and souls of 21st century strong accomplished independent black women, but now-a-days black women are being scrutinized for having these same qualities. How does your book address this?
I think this is a great question. There is nothing bad or wrong about being strong and independent. And I think the big surprise in the book will be what the brothers had to say on this topic. I think the challenge we are having is what I said to a group of young sisters at an event I did at the University of Maryland””we have to learn to balance that strength with warmth and femininity. We are often so focused and so independent that we can come off kind of aloof or not interested. What I attempt to do with my book is take folks inside of who we are and how we got here. Yes, many of us are angry and walled off, but we were not born that way. And we do not have to stay that way. I think it is time to take the mask off””some of how we have been defined is terribly damaging and just plain myth. But some of how we have defined ourselves is even more damaging because we have internalized it all and decided-hey if you can’t beat “˜em—join “˜em. That needs to change. Fast.
Is there something that men can take away from the book?
Yes absolutely. Unlike some of my male counterparts like Hill Harper or Steve Harvey I wanted to write a book that was based on some research and study. I guess that is the lawyer in me (smiles). I wanted the brothers as well as our white male peers and others to have a voice in this book. And they have one””and I think the men will really like that they did not get bashed or demeaned, but I allowed them to be a full participant in not just understanding our story as black women, but also in helping in the healing process that desperately needs to take place in our lives as black women and as black men.
How do you want young women to feel after they have read the book?
Uplifted, heard, loved, appreciated, and valued. I want them to know that some of us older sisters are not out to under cut them, demean them, or not invest in them. Yes, we all know about the Queen Bee syndrome and how many older sisters can be the worst to deal with in the workplace, etc. But, I want to redefine that paradigm and let the young sisters know that we GOT THEM! That we know they are facing some very unique and difficult challenges relationally and otherwise, but that we are going to mentor, guide, and love them through it so that they can have the fulfilling lives they want when they get my age or older.