Black female professionals are not unicorns. Their stories have yet to be told . . . until Precious J. Stroud made it a life project | The Light Series

To be Black, female and professional is to be in constant resistance of the system, yet in constant need of healing, affirmation and documentation of the experience. This is what Precious J. Stroud of BlackFemaleProject offers.

BlackFemaleProject provides a platform that uplifts the voices of Black female professionals, affirms their experiences, and provides insights for how Black women can achieve self-defined success, in the workplace and beyond. [To do so, the organization] uses digital media and in-person events to bring Black women together— across generation and industry—to engage in sisterhood, resource and knowledge sharing, inspiration, healing, and growth, all focused on improving career experiences for Black women and improving the overall well being of workplaces.

At BlackFemaleProject, we envision a world in which Black women can show up and be celebrated as their full selves without any negative consequences. Through our work, BlackFemaleProject addresses gender inequity through an intersectional lens, interrupting some of the many impacts of structural racism and sexism with intergenerational community building.

| Read: ‘Suck it up’: Black women culinary professionals and the culture of resistance

In our efforts, we create space for Black professionals to hear their experiences reflected through documentation and dissemination of personal stories of those who thrive at work, as well as, in conversations that allow for sharing and comparing experiences in real time. With that, we celebrate the unique experience and resilience of Black women, while arming the next generation with wisdom and resources to help them thrive as well. 

For over five years, we have collected and shared women’s stories in print, digital media, and through numerous events in order to center Black women in statewide and national conversations about organizational culture, communications, and inclusion at work. The BlackFemaleProject and accompanying Conversation Series we hold, creates a space for truth telling, affirmation and healing for Black women. As a result, when we come together and share, past trauma is released and our lessons learned [in order to] provide a roadmap for others.

ARK: What was the moment that defines your current work?

PJS: Basically, I got tired of whispering about what was going on at work. I knew that we needed to say something out loud and to be clear about calling it what it was. I was determined to share my story.

ARK: Give us a backstory on BlackFemaleProject.

PJS: I [resigned to the fact that] someone had to document what [Black women in the workplace were] going through. Because over the past generation, there wasn’t documentation about our lived experience at work. 

That first wave of female executives in the ’80s was a breakthrough for all women, including women of color. But we’re still talking about only a handful of Black women actually making it to senior management. Yet, this statistically insignificant growth was enough for some to make the case that there was now an equal playing field. 

What did that mean for Black women? If Oprah made it, we just needed to work harder, right? 

However, there is another important conversation to be had regarding the realities of the workplace. If we can’t have a conversation about systemic oppression with our employers then I have a personal obligation to make sure that my sisters, my nieces, my daughters and granddaughters know the truth so that they can elevate above the status quo and break old patterns of self-sacrificing behavior in the name of social progress. 

Deserving of respect and proper compensation, Black women will no longer be defined by what institutions think we are worth. This is the vision that led to BlackFemaleProject.

What participants are saying about BlackFemaleProject:

“When we started the project I was a little distressed at work and ready to quit my job. Coming to sit with women from different industries let me know that I wasn’t crazy, and was extremely empowering. Going through this process and hearing stories from women on the East Coast reenergized my spirit. Now, I go into work with a new mission, new insight and new goals. I’m feeling like a whole lot of Black Girl Magic every day!”

-Ché Abram, Higher Education

“I stepped into this Project with the thought that I would be giving, contributing, and sharing, not realizing how much I’d be receiving. That is a critical point to make because I felt like I was going to counseling whenever I met with my sister-friends. I was able to talk through things that were happening at work, and even talk through things that had happened previously that I hadn’t quite processed or talked about yet. For me, that was the ultimate gift that I was not even expecting to receive.”

-Dania W. Frink, Marketing and Visual Arts

“The Project provided an avenue for me to see things through a different lens. Now I go to work and think of it as providing a lesson learned for someone else. I make sure that I take note of things that happen on a daily basis. It totally changed the lens I look through. Also, it is good to be around Black women that are making professional strides; these are things that you don’t always see. Having time to interact with one another and then see people commuting to work and giving them a hug or a head nod—yeah, that’s priceless.”

-Fern A. Stroud, Information Technology

ARK: How do you define your work? 

PJS: Research-based project with an intentional healing effect.

ARK: What population does your work serve?

PJS: Black women. And, those who support or want to learn from Black women.

(We at BlackFemaleProject believe the purpose of life is to realize our wildest dreams and live in alignment with our gifts and calling. This belief is at the core of our work. Black women continue to thrive in spite of having long been disproportionately impacted by workplace oppression. We celebrate their resilience and acknowledge their sacrifices. BlackFemaleProject is committed to helping Black women heal and helping all of us to learn from these healing journeys).

ARK:  How do you do your work differently than others in your field?

PJS: Our research, approach, process, and results are all in service to Black women. When you read our reports and engage with our content, know that it was written and produced expressly with you, Black women, in mind.

This project was born out of my personal healing journey.

ARK: How did you create an audience or community?

PJS: I started with women who trusted me and it grew from there. I am a positive person and I have strong relationship building skills. The Project sells itself. The challenge has been responding to needs from women across the country. That is why we are building out on our online platform. By next year, it will be reformatted into an online magazine and we will start monetizing some of the content so that we can become financially sustainable. 

ARK: How did the pandemic or protests change or shift your life?

PJS: Let’s talk about the pandemic, protests, and then the fires in Northern California. We had a day where the sky was orange, dark and it was raining ash (it had been, but this day was notably different). For days on end, it was recommended not to go outside, and if I did I had to wear the N95 mask for particulate matter and another mask on top to protect from COVID-19.

I had been holding it together providing support to my clients; I am an entrepreneur–BlackFemaleProject is our community service project that turned into a WHOLE nonprofit– and leading the first major grant funded project of BlackFemaleProject. I ended up in the ER. It turns out that everything was okay, but I was not feeling this orange sky at all. I needed reassurance that my body was okay. What I relearned during those hours of waiting for tests, taking more tests, and waiting again, was that I needed a break. I was reminded of what relaxed feels like. All I had to do was rest and be taken care of. Typically, by mid-year, I would have taken some time away, disconnected from work, and slowed down. But as an entrepreneur during COVID, it is time to dig deep. This is a time where voices that previously may not be heard can come through. It is a time to innovate, to explore and create. The benefits of this time are not lost on me, but the reality of how I was going about it hit hard. I have since incorporated several personal care practices into my life.

ARK: How did you find strength in some of the darkest hours this year?

PJS: Faith.

I know that my work is needed and that what we are doing improves the quality of life for Black women and the people around them. When Black women depersonalize oppressive conditions at work and clearly understand how systemic oppression works — we become free from old, tired, antiquated approaches to gaining and keeping power. We begin to decide where and how we want to spend our hours and who gets access to our brilliance.

I cannot stop. We are in this together and we each have a role to play. My personal challenge is to not overdo it. I love to solve problems and my mind can go much further than what is reasonable for my body.

For support, I have a strong network of friends and family who are honest, supportive, affirming, and full of love.

I definitely have explored a series of mindfulness practices over the last several months. My meditation and quiet time is paramount. Exercise has been in fits and starts, but whenever I get out for a walk, I feel refreshed and renewed. 

ARK: Who or what gave you the courage to continue on?

PJS: I am inspired and motivated by the impact of our work. BlackFemaleProject is alive, it has a calling of its own. I was the vessel that it came through, but Black women across the globe will give it life and purpose beyond what I can even imagine. If my ancestors of the first generation out of US chattel slavery, on both sides, took risks to seek work opportunities and better education for their children by relocating and entering territories that were slightly less terrorizing, then I can surely stay focused as my work is not my own, but in honor of those who came before and in service to those who come behind.

ARK: Which of your accomplishments gives you joy?

PJS: Our impact report, Reflections 2020: Our First Five years. We put our hearts into this and it is a research report written FOR Black women, not about Black women.

ARK: What is a philosophy or idea that keeps you grounded?

PJS: We are in this together. And, what I do has an impact beyond what I can see. 

ARK: 2021 and forward is about reimagining and repair. What is your great imagining or construction of what the world must look like and be?

PJS: Black women must be paid for their work and emotional labor. This is a nonnegotiable from where I sit. #PayBlackWomen

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