Interview held by Chindo
It’s the one-year anniversary [November 14th] for Black Girl In Om. How do you two feel to be at this point with what all you two have accomplished in this year alone?
Lauren: I am beyond thrilled, Chindo. This month represents a lot for me including the enormous power in throwing your vision out into the world and seeing it met with so much energy and enthusiasm because it strikes a chord with countless others. All I knew in August 2014, when I first starting visioning Black Girl In Om, was that I wanted to practice yoga with more women of color and guide yoga with more women of color. I spoke with Zakkiyyah about my abstract ideas in September and she, with relatively little knowledge of me, but a ton of faith, said “yes” to journeying forward and building this thing! One thing led to the next, and now, in just one year through Black Girl In Om, we have engaged more than 250 women of color through yoga and meditation sessions, healthy meal gatherings, and more. I think I realized the enormity of what we have done when we traveled to New York City and D.C. in August and September. We realized how many people have been touched by what we’ve cultivated.
Zakkiyyah: I’m honestly just full of gratitude Chindo. When we first embarked on this project together, I really didn’t know what to expect, but this past year has been full of so much support and love. Being involved with Black Girl In Om, and reflecting on the year leading up this month...I’m full of a lot of excitement. Over the past year, Lauren and I have been constantly creating and manifesting opportunities to share space and community with women of color. Our one year anniversary marks for me new transformations and opportunities for Black Girl In Om. It affirms our mission to cultivate safe and meaningful space for women of color.
Within the first year of Black Girl In Om, did you two accomplish the goals set forth before this became real?
Zakkiyyah: Working together and doing this type of work there are ALWAYS goals to accomplish. One of our most important goals was visibility and support, and I feel that’s been a huge accomplishment for us! It’s very humbling and affirming to know that we’ve been able to share space with so many amazing women and have the support that we do from our audience, whether on social media or the spaces we’ve been in. Personally, one of my main goals as Art Director was gathering strong photographers/visionaries who could contribute beautiful and meaning work. Work that aligns with Lauren and I’s aesthetic vision for Black Girl In Om. I think we’ve been very blessed and grateful to have the contributors that we do on our team as of now, and how that’s grown.. that’s a great accomplishment. I’m excited to see how our new goals manifest in the year ahead.
Lauren: Early on, I learned the beauty in setting intentions. For me, intentions are different than goals in that they are bigger, grander, and sometimes seem wildly beyond reach. In setting several large intentions for where I saw Black Girl In Om going in ten years, when Black Girl In Om didn’t even have an online presence yet, and had barely begun offering gatherings, I planted a seed in my consciousness of faith, confidence, and radical belief in what was going to grow. My intentions began to dictate my interactions: I introduced myself as the Founder and Creative Director of Black Girl In Om before anyone knew what Black Girl In Om was and when I barely knew what a Creative Director was, in practice; I made plans of when and how to leave my day job; I started reaching out to creatives who I identified as aligned with our vision. It went from a daydream to a reality because I allowed my grand intentions to shape my reality. So, yes, Chindo, I believe we have both accomplished the goals and then some because we believe in the power of manifesting all that it is we see, even if what we see seems beyond us.
Lauren, upon hearing news that you’d be featured in Elle magazine, how’d that make you feel?
That was so dope! Kristina reached out to me after reading about my Black Girl In Om feature in NY Magazine, so I was so happy and grateful that good press led to more good press. It all feels very surreal, but again, I suppose it shouldn’t since I have been focused on manifesting growth, abundance, and opportunity for Black Girl In Om and other women of color engaged in healing practices and self-care work for our communities.
How did you two meet?
Lauren: A mutual friend of ours, Irina, who I was in a women’s wellness circle with kept on telling me that I should follow Zakkiyyah on Instagram. Zakkiyyah has such a beautiful Instagram. She’s such an amazing photographic artist concerned with things that also interest me: black experiences, the black female body, healing, and more. I followed her and was amazed. This was around the time when ideas about Black Girl In Om were just floating around my head. I reached out to Zakkiyyah and we met at a cafe and sat outside in the park. I told her about Black Girl In Om. I asked her if she wanted to me the Art Director and guide the visual direction of Black Girl In Om’s aesthetic. She said yes. Chindo, this taught me to always trust my instinct. Traditional protocol would have suggested I put out a call for applications, meet and interview candidates, and more. Zakkiyyah and I have different qualities and skills, but we complement each other. Our visions are aligned, and we grow together and offer each other what the other person doesn’t necessary have or see.
Zakkiyyah: The conversation we had that day over tea (at Argo Tea) was a catalyst for so many other things we’ve embarked on with Black Girl In Om. We were able to connect over our love for black women, wellness, and cultivating space for people of color. So when Lauren asked me to partner with her, I was immediately open to it. I thought it was all just really dope, and it was something I felt very positive about. From then on, we just continued to create and manifest projects for Black Girl In Om and here we are a year later!
Lauren, what in Zakkiyyah did you see that made you feel like she’d be a great addition to Black Girl In Om?
Zakkiyyah is sensitive to the world around her the people in it who are in the greatest need of love. She is attuned to the importance of her own self-care journey. What I think more of us need to remember, again and again, is that those of us representing “the work” of wellness and self-care, can oftentimes neglect our own self-care in the name of helping others, always saying “yes,” and needing to “stay on” 100% of the time. I can’t tell you how much I could benefit from a retreat right now. To unplug completely. I’m planning to do that in December and I can’t wait. Zakkiyyah, however, has always been very good at listening to her soul and responding to what it tells her. Sometimes she doesn’t respond to my texts or e-mails until later than I’d like, but it’s because she has life to deal with. And I’m happy about that, ultimately.
Also, in case you haven’t noticed, she’s an enormously talented and thoughtful artist and visual communicator. I dig her aesthetic and knew she’d be the perfect Art Director.
Who and/or what are you two inspired by?
Zakkiyyah: I’m inspired by a lot of things, but at this particular moment in my life I find myself being inspired by women the most. I feel that I’m surrounded by some pretty damn remarkable women. I think of my mother and how our relationship has shifted since I’ve been older, the connection is a lot deeper. I think of my very close friends, who are like sisters to me. I think of Lauren and our work with Black Girl In Om. Women who have and are leaving legacies. The tenacity and will that comes with being a woman, I’m inspired by all of that. If this year has shown anything to me, it’s that collective womanhood and feminine energy can be quite powerful. Even thinking about my personal work and how I document.. it’s usually women that I put at the forefront of my work. I’m always thinking: How are we represented and how can be better represent ourselves for ourselves. It seems to have been a main theme in my life this year. Especially that being black women, “we” inspire me the most. But I’m also inspired by natural elements, sound, color, or anything that taps into my creative spirit or engages with my inner self.
Lauren: I, too, am inspired by incredible women of color in my life. My mother’s undying support of me and all that I am doing right now with Black Girl In Om and as a creative following a nontraditional vocational path fuels me. All the women who surround me in Chicago are the most amazing people I have ever met: curators, artists, poets, theorists, and more...I truly believe we live in a particular kind of renaissance and moment of innovation within Black America and women in many ways are leading the charge.
I am also inspired by plenty of people I study from a distance, and perhaps have met just once or twice, who are forging their own paths, by their own means, and creating what they want to see. Individuals and brands that come to mind in this category: Chelsea Bravo, the incredible menswear designer who I interviewed this month; cultural innovators Joshua Kissi and Travis Gumbs of Street Etiquette, who I have been studying for years now; Walker and Company (creators of Bevel), led by Tristan Walker; and more...goodness, don’t get me started!
Do you two have any daily aspirations and how many do you feel you accomplish a day?
Lauren: I try to practice yoga, meditation, and journaling every day. I find that if I don’t practice right in the morning, there’s a great chance that I won’t practice at all. All of these activities force me, a deeply social person, to get quiet with myself and in touch with my own thoughts and what my spirit is going through.
Zakkiyyah: When I wake up in the morning, I make a list of things I have to get done or want to get done. Those can be as simple as email a certain person, making sure to meditate for 10 minutes.. or do yoga for 30min. Make sure I eat fruit that day or listing what I’m grateful for. These are little things that I do to somewhat organize the craziness that goes on in my head. I feel as if daily aspirations are never ending though.. like goals that you have. You accomplish one thing and that may signal something else that’s a new goal for yourself. Sometimes I don't accomplish everything off that list, and that’s ok. I know there’s always the next day and life doesn’t adjust to our plans. These things can shift around.
Do you two have any daily mantras, and if you do, would you mind sharing some?
“What do I need?”
“How can I affirm myself in this moment?”
“push to the next level”
These are really important for me, and propel me. I think it’s important to acknowledge your own power and how you feel each and every single day. These are still pretty recent practices for me, but I write these down at the beginning of the day. Throughout the day I’ll find ways to respond to these.
Lauren: “Good things take time.” I’m an activator. I get an idea and I feel really passionate about it and want to enact it immediately. This isn’t always practical, nor the most helpful step. There’s beauty in the process. Which leads me to my next mantra which is: “enjoy and embrace the journey.” This is often challenging for me, since my inclination is to always look to what’s next. Meditation has helped me cultivate more awareness and appreciation for the present moment. There is so much beauty in recognizing that all aspects of my journey, even the most difficult times, are helpful for transforming me into my highest self!
What are some of your goals for 2016?
Zakkiyyah: We both have a lot of goals, but I think one of my main goals is embracing transformation and labor. I look forward to working hard. I feel like 2016 is going to ultimately be about labors of love. I have a feeling I’ll be putting in even more work, and I’m excited about that. Investing in new projects for Black Girl In Om, as well as my own personal work as an artist. In 2016 I want to be able to do work that I holistically love, as well as be able to support myself doing those things. It’s a big goal, but I believe it’s possible. Lauren and I also hope that Black Girl In Om will continue to expand and surprise us in 2016! The best is yet to come.
Lauren: Yes, the best truly is yet to come. Every time I’ve gotten excited about an opportunity this year, a mentor of mine, Janice Bond, tells me that. It reminds me that the sky is the limit. That every good thing that we have manifested is literally only the beginning.
This next year will bring lots of travel for Black Girl In Om. We will be announcing something exceptionally major in the coming days and we can’t wait to see the response! What it will mean: lots and lots of travel for us. We can’t wait to engage with hundreds, maybe even thousands more, women of color in our vision in 2016.
Additionally, it’s my personal intention to manifest more opportunities to teach yoga, explore my personal transformation on wellness retreats, and cultivate more balance. As a creative entrepreneur in the wellness space, where a lot of my work is also online, it’s a challenge to remain balanced in mind, body, and spirit. But it’s the most important thing so I can be giving of my energy in a helpful way to others so it’s always something I’m working on.
We understand the need for Black Girl In Om and the awareness it’s begun to raise towards black women wanting to lead spiritually, physically and mentally well lives, but why? What or were there any other components that played a part in you wanting to start this soon-to-be phenomenon (if not already) in the female black community?
Zakkiyyah: You have to look at the world and the type of condition that we live in, especially as it pertains to black folks as a whole. Our spirits are being attacked by the media, state violence, and the larger systemic structures that we live in. These are epidemics going on everyday. They're happening so fast and rapidly. The best response to all of that is action. You have to take immediate action. That brings me to Black Girl In Om, and this vision that Lauren thought of..it’s a response. We’re talking about people’s mental, physical, and spiritual well being.. it’s a critical matter I think. We’re encouraging people of color to live their best lives. It’s needed. Especially for black people, at least for me. It’s really important during these time that black folks create and facilitate their own spaces and focus on our needs. We all have to build together and lift each other up. Black Girl In Om is a space for that. Women can connect with other women.. A space where women of color can feel empowered and have ownership over their own lives. Black Girl In Om for me as a whole is about manifesting positivity and safe spaces for meaningful connections and collective empowerment.
Lauren: Absolutely, Zakkiyyah. So, what some people may not realize is that for many years I have been an advocate of social justice and dismantling oppressive structures including racism, sexism, and classism. Specifically, before moving to Chicago I worked with young black and brown people on art for social change and leadership development. I supported teens of color in expressing themselves, forming their own opinions of themselves, and intervening in problematic narratives that the media and those who have been in control of documenting history and constructing dominant narratives have built in an attempt to silence, control, and demean them. In graduate school, I further studied these systems. My passion for creating safe spaces for women of color, spaces that heal and uplift, is rooted in my awareness and understanding that these spaces matter deeply. They aren’t part of the broader trend toward yoga, meditation, and peace. These spaces matter because, like Zakkiyyah indicates, our spirits are under attack, and have been ever since our ancestors were violently brought to this land. Black Girl In Om, then, is in part about generational healing. Some of the women who come to our workshops are having conversations about self-care and self-love for the first time. Ever. That’s huge. And exciting. And I’m honored to be a part of it.