This year has been challenging to say the least. For content creators, models and industry insiders their work was seemingly put to a halt due to the pandemic. And when things started to slowly pick back up, the nation was hit with a social uprising. Many fed up with the number of Black lives being lost by the hands of the police. “I feel ready to make the changes and be part of this new normality. I don’t want to go back to the way it was–in any sense of the word,” supermodel and activist Adwoa Aboah tells ESSENCE.
Aboah has been a light in an industry where many have taken the road to stay silent – and rightfully so. With the fear of losing contracts and clients, the fashion industry has made it difficult for Black creatives to honestly speak out about their experiences. However, the model has been speaking about mental health and race through her organization, Gurls Talk, while also working with large fashion houses such as Dior, Fendi, Burberry, Chanel and Marc Jacobs.
“It’s become quite natural to me to speak my truth and talk about subjects that are stigmatized or people find to be taboo,” Aboah exclaims.
Recently, Aboah launched a #CopingTogether initiative with Gurls Talk so their supporters could openly discuss pandemic woes. However, with the global uprising against police brutality becoming a much more urgent topic, this initiative couldn’t have come at a better time.
“I’m not staying silent in general, whether it be talking about mental health or my own story, because I really, truly feel obligated to do it,” she says.
ESSENCE got a chance to chat with Aboah about how she has been able to create during this time and more about her #CopingTogether project.
ESSENCE: This is a challenging time for Black creatives. How are you doing?
Aboah: I switch back and forth from me being in quite a negative head space and feeling like I’m not sure what the next steps are, and knowing what I want and the changes that I want to see made, but feeling quite overwhelmed by the process and the steps that need to be taken for that to happen. I think that’s very much the kind of the person I am, I just feel like I do carry a lot of the world’s anxieties on my shoulders sometimes, as a lot of us do. So I feel rather anxious, but better than last week and definitely much better than the week before.
What has been the most eye opening experience during this social uprising?
Aboah: I think what we’re seeing a lot of is that people are really finding their voice and they’re speaking about things that they hadn’t necessarily spoken up about, because of fear of the backlash. A lot of us are feeling like it was so detrimental to keep on going the way we were.
“I feel ready to make the changes and be part of this new normality. I don’t want to go back to the way it was.” -Adwoa Aboah
How has the pandemic played apart in all of this for you?
Aboah: It [the pandemic] has made me look at how you want to live each day. Not that this is kind of a surprise with the revolution and what’s happening, this was part of our daily lives and we were completely aware of it. But with COVID, I never thought I’d be on a planet living through a pandemic. After I got over the fact that this was a break that we all had to have, or if we were in places of privilege, that we were kind of lucky enough to have, I realized that once this is over how am I going to navigate from day-to-day? What things do I want to leave behind? What things will make me unhappy? Who was making me unhappy? So now that this revolution has happened, for me actually, with the mental state that I’m in, it couldn’t have come at a better time. Although, it’s nerve-wracking and there are days that I felt really, really depressed, as I think a lot of us have. I feel ready to make the changes and be part of this new normality. I don’t want to go back to the way it was.
What has made you so comfortable to speak up being a model, when we see most staying silent due to the fear of losing jobs?
Aboah: It was quite different with the death of George Floyd. I was really mourning and I felt like I didn’t have the words to even articulate the anger that I was feeling. I was feeling so triggered by past trauma and I couldn’t believe that we were here once again. I felt this pressure to speak, because I was seeing other people speaking and I knew that it was really important. I started feeling bad about why I hadn’t said anything and whether my silence was kind of detrimental to my following. Whether it be through Gurls Talk or through the podcast, I speak about race and I speak about these things and always have. If I need a moment of silence, I’m deserving of that, so that I can think about what it is that I want to say.
What is Gurls Talk for you?
Aboah: It started predominantly through my own journey of mental health. I was just experiencing massive amounts of shame, and I felt that the world I was navigating through was highly stigmatized. I realized that I needed to, in many ways, create my own community where we were all on this journey and mission to kind of normalize mental health, and also I knew that from sharing my story and from listening to others, it made me feel massively less alone. So, Gurls Talk is a community organization dedicated to promoting the mental health and wellbeing of all girls and young women.
You recently launched your #CopingTogether initiative, can you explain how important that is for us all now?
Aboah: Coping Together, it was very much birthed out this idea that, although Gurls Talk started from being about my own personal story, we are very much community-led and it is always about asking our community about the subjects that they want to discuss. Our community, before COVID-19, very much led the discussions sending in art submissions, essays, and poetry. That has always formed the conversations that we have internally at Gurls Talk, looking about what our community really needs.
Although we had massive plans for Gurls Talk, when COVID-19 happened, we wanted to kind of go back to that and really promote coping and mental health by really putting it in the hands of our lovely community. So we created Coping Together, which was a digital campaign, and it was encouraging girls everywhere to produce art in all its forms as a way to express and process difficult emotions. Although I know it’s not solving any issues, I knew that it was a great way for our community to let out how they were kind of coping with everything and what they were going through.
Gurls Talk always wants to hear from the community and encourages submissions including photography, poetry, essays, paintings, illustrations and much more. Community submissions are featured on @GurlsTalk as well as on every podcast during the #GurlsShare segment. For more information visit www.gurlstalk.com and follow Gurls Talk here.