I Became My Own: Movement, Part II

“Giving Black Women Their Flowers”

By Shanize Byrd

I stood in a corner, looking around the room, trying to take in the moment without getting overwhelmed with emotions. What I saw and felt was almost indescribable. It’s one thing to have a dream, but to see it walking around, breathing and shining is another. The night of blackbyrd initiative’s one year anniversary was a moment I hope to never forget because it really showed me the power of a Black woman’s presence and love. Seeing a living palette of melanin dressed in ivories, yellows, blushes, florals, shades of black and exposed skin was like walking in a field of flowers, which was very fitting for the night. The chosen theme was “Giving Black Women Their Flowers” because Black women deserve them. Period. A group of Black women creatives, entrepreneurs, and community organizers were invited as special guests to be celebrated for their efforts and contributions to Black liberation. And the love you could feel in the room was like a fountain because we poured into one another until every cup ran over.

When people inquire about blackbyrd initiative, I often say that it is something you are not going to fully grasp until you step into the space and experience it for yourself. It is a lifestyle, sound, aesthetic and feel. It is a movement. The one year anniversary was meant to help contextualize what is blackbyrd initiative and how it serves Black women. I’ve always been inspired by Black women and I wanted a moment to fellowship with women whom I admire for their life’s work. The world reaps the benefits from almost everything we have to offer, yet we are often unrecognized for it. 

When I began crafting a list of special guests, I thought about women who I had direct ties to or admired from afar. I saw them and wanted them to know that they were seen. It honestly felt like writing a letter to my favorite superstars, inviting them to my party. I could tell my “inner child” led on this front because she had faith in her big imagination. Whereas my grown self was anxious if they would even receive the invitation. I also wanted to start a tradition of honoring a Black woman with an award for her lifetime achievement; the “Fly High” award. A legend came to mind and my greatest hope was to open space for her story to be told and honored with grace. As the RSVPs came in, I felt locked into a place of gratitude and affirmation. I could feel that the intentions were received and the night was going to be something special.

In honor of our special guests

Without a doubt, I had to invite Krystal Allen because of her significance in blackbyrd initiative’s background story. She was my “midwife and doula” who helped bring this organization into fruition. Krystal was in the first installment of the “I Became My Own” series, where she shared her journey of becoming an owner of a multi-million dollar consulting firm after experiencing a traumatic termination from an institution that exploited and devalued her leadership. I originally just wanted to write a single story as an offering to her, but her dynamic interview sparked the creation of the full series.

Krystal Allen is the owner of K.Allen Consulting

Adrinda Kelly and Stevona Rogers are the dynamic duo who lead Black Educators for New Orleans, which is a nonprofit that helps “build the capacity of Black-led efforts to advance educational progress in New Orleans.” Me and Stevona (aka Stevie) go way back to when I was just babe out here in these Nola streets. She was like an informal mentor to me when I was a young educator and she modeled for me the possibilities of being an unapologetic Black woman (tap into her “Black Women Are For Grownups” universe). I learned about Adrinda’s leadership and charge to preserve a Black presence in education and knew she deserved to be honored for her commitment.

Adrina Kelly (left), Avione Pichon and Steven Rogers (right)

I met Chastity George through a mutual friend on Instagram and just showed mad love to each other’s platform. She is the creator of the “High Tea Series” podcast and a long-term educational leader in Baton Rouge, LA. She messaged me one day and asked if I would come onto her podcast to talk about “self preservation of the Black woman”. We exchanged stories of growing up around self-sacrificing Black women and how we strive to pour into our own cups. Chastity eventually became a part of the ”I Became My Own Series”, where she shared what it is like to follow in the footsteps of her revered late grandmother and how she takes up space as her authentic self in leadership.

Chastity is the creator of the High Tea Series podcast

DJ Legatron Prime is the epitome of a vibe. Last December, a sister friend of mine invited me to an event at a local hotel in New Orleans and told me that Legatron was spinning that night. I am a sucka for a good DJ set and miss mamas did not disappoint. When I walked up to her to compliment her skills, she shyly said “thank you” and flashed that wide beautiful smile. I later learned that sis is a whole costume designer and stylist, in addition to her hosting dope events for the culture. 

The vibe curator who is twice a mood, DJ Legatron Prime

You know that saying, “your reputation precedes you”? That’s Mary Moran for me. I knew of Mary for years because we shared similar circles and her amazing work with Our Voice, Nuestra Voz, which is a  “nation-building organization, anchoring ancestry while building Black and Brown solidarity in New Orleans.” I finally had the privilege to meet her last winter when we met over coffee. I was in the middle of a job hunt and curious about a role that was opening up at her organization. We must have spent at least two hours talking about our definitions of liberation, experiences as organizers, political philosophies and race relations. She is one of the most brilliant and passionate leaders I have ever come across. Mary also inspired me to be more cognizant of the intersectionality of race and ethnicities, especially when it comes to our Black and Brown sistas.

Mary Moran has dedicate her life’s work to organizing & liberating the Black and Brown community

Back in 2020, a sister-friend of mine sent me a link to an episode of Balance Black Girl. There was this woman who spoke with so much conviction and used a language that resonated with me. Lyvonne Briggs, who is the host of the “Sensual Faith” podcast, gave gems on gems through that segment about how sexuality is a divine birthright that women should own and embrace. I personally have a history of being misguided by the church when it came to sexuality, so it was refreshing to hear a dissenting opinion to what a lot of us are forced fed in faith-based institutions.

Lyvonne Briggs is sex-positive “Pastor Bae” you can catch on her podcast “Sensual Faith”

Then there is Mariama Curry, our inaugural “Fly High” award recipient. I first met her in my early years as a teacher as the  African dance instructor at our school. When you meet and fully experience her, I promise you that you will never forget her. She is a perfect blend between sweet and spicy, who you can catch on any given day repping her beloved Jackson State University and bumping some west coast rap. What really drew me into Mariama was her stories about being a Black Panther back in the 1970s. She was only 14 years old when she joined the New Orleans chapter. Every time she allowed space for me to listen to her, I felt like I was being catapulted into those times. I could see the police cars following her down the street as she was walking to school, after handing out newspapers for the party. I could hear the clicks through the phone receiver when the FBI would tap into her calls at home. And I could see a meeting hall filled with Black people eager to learn about their rights and position in the movement. It was a no-brainer to have Mariama be the first recipient of the “Fly High” award. She has dedicated her life to Black power and reconnecting Black people to Africa. She currently runs two traditional African dance companies, which she founded on her own, and serves as a full-time educator in the New Orleans Public School System. 

Mariama Curry receiving her Fly High award

The night of the anniversary, Mariama shared her life’s story with the room and we were fully locked into it. As I was listening to her and looking at everyone’s faces, it’s like the spirit of an ancestor came to me to say “job well done”. We ended the night with all the special & honored guests receiving a bouquet of long-stemmed roses. Then, we raised our glasses to toast blackbyrd initiative and the legacy to follow.