I Became My Own: Movement, Part I

The story behind blackbyrd initiative

“Reverence is sown into the foundation of this organization”

Shanize Byrd, CEO & Founder

When I conceived the idea of blackbyrd initiative, I honestly felt like I was becoming a mother. Like the story of when Mary had a visit from an angel, who told her she was carrying God’s child. I believe that this idea was divinely given to me and I knew that it would be something beyond myself. I remember sitting in a boho coffee shop in Fort Lauderdale, where I was living at the time. I spent two weeks processing and visualizing blackbyrd initiative. Everything had to be intentional and connected to Black liberation. 

blackbyrd initiative began as an offering to the late great Nina Simone because I was inspired by her fearlessness as a revolutionary and complexities as a human being. I personally learned from Nina that often a Black woman’s strength and power is informed by trauma. Though we may appear hard and invincible, there are thin layers that are fragile and must be handled with care. Her song “Blackbird” gave this space a name. “The meaning behind Simone’s song, “Blackbird” speaks to the struggles and pain of black women, as black birds. She expresses the pain of feeling unloved and uncared for, not understood. Black women face a triple jeopardy of race, class, and gender oppression, which is detailed by the term intersectionality,” according to Black Then.

A portrait of blackbyrd initiative’s founder, Shanize, from our “Minnie” exhibit in the blackbyrd Museum

Originally, I planned on naming the company just “blackbyrd”, but the name was registered as a business already in the state and I couldn’t use it. The word “initiative” came to me and because I wanted to be very intentional about the word choice, I looked up the precise meaning. The concept of “initiative” basically means “the power or opportunity to act or take charge before others do”. That is the essence of the mission. The unique spelling of the name, all lowercase letters, pays homage to bell hooks. She was a mastermind at contextualizing radical love and liberation. She spelled her name with all lowercase letters, which always drew me into her. I interpreted it as to never underestimate the subtleties, especially with a Black woman, and you don’t have to exalt yourself above others to be a giant. 

In those two weeks of brainstorming and mapping all the places blackbyrd initiative could go, I wrote a seventeen-page document. It had a mission statement that was about a page long and all these ideas about “liberating the Black family”. I remember talking to my therapist about it and she just sat there and listened to me. She asked me some probing questions about my choice of wanting to focus on the “whole” Black community. I felt a bit of angst because I knew that something was off. My friend Krystal, owner of K. Allen Consulting, was also coaching me through the process of developing the company’s framework. I called her my “midwife” for helping me to birth this “baby”. She was so gracious in listening to my ideas, which seemed very broad and scattered at the time. In our first session, as I’m pitching my prospective company, I didn’t feel completely connected to it.  The anxiety started to kick in because I had a moment where I believed that I was being delusional and thinking too big.

Krystal Allen’s installment, ” I Became my Own: Boss”

 Sometimes rather than keep working at something to figure it out, you have to take a step back and be still. I call it my “Moses moments” because it’s like going to the mountaintop to revisit the image of the Promise Land. I remember sitting in my living room and I noticed my vision board that I created for that year. Pictures of black women were all over it and quotes related to women empowerment. I looked at my coffee table, which had magazines with Black women on all of the covers. Then, I thought about who I named the organization after and why. It came to me, Black women should be the focus of blackbyrd initiative. I was to create a company that is in service to Black women and their liberation. I believe the reason why I originally planned on it being a space that focused on the “whole” Black community was because Black women are often inclined to prioritize everybody over themselves. We want to take care of and save everybody. I witnessed the women in my family do it, as well as other Black women around me. blackbyrd initiative’s revolution would be “Black women come first”.

I chose May 11th as the founding day as a way to honor my maternal grandmother, who is alive and well at 97 years old. She deserves her flowers for her contributions to a historical moment that happened in my hometown of Hollywood, FL. Back in 1969, my grandfather became the first Black man to receive an Occupational License in the city. He was denied twice before finally being approved on his third try. The city’s commissioner granted him the license off of the strength of my grandmother’s work as his wife’s caregiver. My grandmother was a housekeeper and she nursed the commissioner’s wife back to health after she had fallen ill. So you see, wherever there is magic, I can guarantee a Black woman is not too far away. I wanted my grandmother to be a part of blackbyrd initiative’s history so that her story may never be forgotten and to always celebrate Black women.

A capture from the one year anniversary celebration, “Giving Black Women Their Flowers”

Within a year, blackbyrd initiative produced an original series, “ I Became My Own”, which is a compilation of interviews with Black women sharing their personal stories of how they became the very thing they either aspired to or needed the most for themselves. Lingerie Conversations Series, one of our popular intimate support communities, became a safe haven for Black women to have candid and confidential conversations about sexual libersation free from the White patriarchal design. It is truly a vibe because the women come dressed in lingerie to symbolize vulnerability and sensuality and we hold space for us to be comfortable in our own skin. blackbyrd initiative is a space where we envision a world where Black women live independent and holistic lives; free from society’s oppressive White Supremacy design. And I am amazed at how it has grown in just one year. It ain’t no easy feat for a black woman to act on her dreams, so I wanted to ensure that blackbyrd initiative was celebrated and received by Black women creatives, entrepreneurs and activists. The one year anniversary was going to be a moment to honor this sacred ground, offer gratitude to Nina, bell & my grandmother Nezeree and give Black women their flowers for their own movements in Black liberation. 

Continue to “I Became My Own Movement Part II”