Safe Spaces For Black Women Q+A
Meet Alaina, the Operations Assistant & Therapy Group Facilitator at SS4BW
We chatted to Alaina Gabriel, a representative for the charity, Safe Spaces 4 Black Women. Alaina is a 31-year-old Mancunian of Trinidadian descent. She recently started working with the charity and is on a mission to raise awareness and invite more Womxn of colour to join.
Safe Spaces for Black Women was started earlier this year by Dr Leyla Hussein and Fatima Hagi.
About the founders…
Dr. Leyla Hussein is a psychotherapist specialising in supporting survivors of sexual abuse. She is an international lecturer on female genital mutilation (FGM) and gender rights and recognised as one of the key experts on the issue globally.
Fatima Hagi is a poet, communications specialist and women’s rights activist. She grew up in London, but spent much of her childhood in Somalia & Kenya, her ancestral homeland. Her passion for human rights has seen her revisit East Africa, working for the United Nations and using her writing skills to raise awareness on marginalised societies.
Alaina Q+A – SS4BW
Tell us a little about your journey and how you got to where you are today?
I’ve always been fascinated with social constructivism. My interest became heightened when I lost my mum to cancer at 23. That realisation everyone faces during a bereavement: I still have a lot to learn about everything on this earth without guided support. I sought counselling to help me through it and was disappointed in learning the lack of equal representation in therapeutic settings. So, four years ago, I decided to enrol at Manchester Metropolitan University and study psychology with counselling and psychotherapy. Wanting to empower every BODY regardless of race, gender or social class to prioritise their mental health.
Tell us a little about your journey and how you got to where you are today?
I’ve always been fascinated with social constructivism. My interest became heightened when I lost my mum to cancer at 23. That realisation everyone faces during a bereavement: I still have a lot to learn about everything on this earth without guided support. I sought counselling to help me through it and was disappointed in learning the lack of equal representation in therapeutic settings.
So, four years ago, I decided to enrol at Manchester Metropolitan University and study psychology with counselling and psychotherapy. Wanting to empower every BODY regardless of race, gender or social class to prioritise their mental health.
When was SS4BW founded?
The project was founded in London, June 2020. By co-founders Dr. Leyla Hussein OBE, a psychotherapist and internationally renowned social activist, and Fatima Hagi, a poet and fellow activist. Both women specialise in gender rights and you can find out more information on their website.
How long have you been working with SS4BW and how did you get involved?
I got involved because I was exhausted. I grew tired of being re-traumatised by social injustices worldwide. High-profile cases of racial inequality, transphobic related murder and police brutality. June seemed particularly difficult for us all. The killing of so many Black people alongside a global pandemic affected my soul. I had to do something. After attending BLM protests, I saw an Instagram post advertising for volunteers at Safe Spaces 4 Black Women. So, I contacted them. I sent a passionate email asking the founders to let me be involved somehow in navigating the diaspora of black women’s voices. After an awesome chat with Leyla and Fatima, I was thankful to be given the opportunity to work with them since August 2020.
Why is there a need for such a space in today’s day and age?
I mean why shouldn’t there be such a space right? In the words of Kamala Harris, “black women are often the backbone of society but have to play the background.” We are the brunt of jokes, ostracised by society, hurt by systemic racism, whilst suppressing our emotions of rejection as we watch our counterparts excel because of their inherent privilege. Over 60% of Black women within the UK feel unprotected by our current welfare system (Henry et al, 2020). So, SS4BW listened and within 24hours of tweeting if Black women would be interested, 4,000 requests were received. And this virtual network is not just for Black women in the UK. We have women from America, Nigeria, Sweden and more logging onto these sessions. A global sisterhood for sure!
“We must have a safe space to check-in on each other, where we can express how we feel amongst like-minded Black women who are also tired, where everyone will be heard and be given the opportunity to say exactly how they feel, uncensored, unfiltered and without judgment”Dr. Leyla Hussein.
What happens in a typical session with Safe Spaces for Black Women?
Whilst every group session is different, they last approximately two hours and are guided by a qualified therapist and facilitator. These virtual meetups concentrate on collective healing and emotional support. Exploring and openly discussing the experience of navigating the world as a Black woman. Sessions have discussed situationships, being Black in white spaces and prioritising your self pleasure. Incorporating therapeutic activities such as journaling, guided meditation besides sharing wellbeing techniques such as mood boxes.
Who is eligible to join and how do they do it?
Anyone can join SS4BW mailing list here and follow us on Instagram @safespaces4blackwomen. We welcome loving support from our allies. However, currently we provide free weekly group therapy sessions for those that identify as Black, and as a women (cis, trans or other). We invite you to simply fill in our registration form below and we will be in touch.
What is the most positive realisation you have had since working for SS4BW?
I will start by saying it’s a unique organisation that proudly stands against the status quo: Black women ARE a priority in society. We have been taught to supress our emotions, thoughts and feelings but here is a space that you can be unapologetically authentic. Personally, through co-facilitating group sessions with a therapist I’ve witnessed how empowered everyone has become. The growth from these women having the opportunity to articulate racial trauma has given them the self-confidence needed in realising their self-worth. Safe Spaces 4 Black Women shares my belief in a just world, making mental health support accessible for all Black women.
“The growth from these women having the opportunity to articulate racial trauma has given them the self-confidence needed in realising their self-worth.”Alaina Gabriel
What does an Operations Assistant & Therapy Group Facilitator do at Safe Spaces 4 Black Women?
I assist with administrative tasks on behalf of SS4BW. Creating engaging content on our social media platforms. I also communicate upcoming events and fundraisers to ensure free therapy is accessible. Please visit here for more info. As a group facilitator, I work collaboratively with a qualified therapist. Effectively planning and managing online group therapy whilst directing topical conversation such as setting boundaries and being black in the workplace. For more details on our free weekly sessions on offer, click here. I am allocated to our Tuesday evening session which focuses on self, sex and relationships.
How have you had to adapt the charity for Covid?
We are quite fortunate to specialise in online psychological support, given that our group members are located worldwide. So, whilst Covid19 has prevented our team from meeting physically we foresee that once the pandemic ceases to be a concern, an expansion of face to face events will occur. Workshops, social gatherings and retreats arranged for both staff and service users. Celebrating the wellbeing and mental health of Black women.
How do you make the group sessions feel personal and inclusive?
The sessions are directed by those in attendance. These women radiate love and a powerful energy during group sessions. It’s an emotional rollercoaster of shared pain, shame, love, joy and connection, covering each person in such a unique way I haven’t witnessed before. The only way I can describe it, is that feeling you get when you share your soul with another. You are scared at first, but eventually you expose your vulnerability and are met with utter acceptance.
“The only way I can describe it, is that feeling you get when you share your soul with another. You are scared at first, but eventually you expose your vulnerability and are met with utter acceptance.”Alaina Gabriel
What advice would you give to someone who would like to join but feels nervous or unsure?
I would say, “GIRL IT’s NOT THAT SERIOUS” This is a non-judgemental online community for YOU, created by US, that uplifts EVERYONE in attendance. I promise you will be met with a wave of smiles, fingersnaps and applause. And after the session you will truly feel more understood and empowered in your Blackness.
For more info, make sure you follow Safe Spaces For Black Women below…
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