Excellence and Empowerment: When 90 Black Women From Around The World Gather in Morocco 
Alana Yolande

Imagine visiting magical Marrakech with a plane full of your girlfriends. Vibrant colors and gorgeous tiled riads, sweet mint tea poured from silver Arabian teapots and tagine dishes of tender lamb garnished with baked dates and juicy olives. That’s just what I did two weeks ago, right on the cusp of Women’s History Month. Or at least it felt like I was there with my girlfriends.

In reality, we came to Marrakech as strangers to one another, from Johannesburg, London, New York, Lagos, and beyond. Ranging in age from our 20s to our 50s, 90 beautiful Black women gathered to experience IMARA: the Art of Excellence and Empowerment, a five-day retreat for women of color curated by Victory Jones and Tori Elizabeth of The Colored Girl Inc.

IMARA was held at Jnane Tamsna, an exquisite boutique hotel owned and run by Meryanne Loum-Martin, a Black Parisian lawyer-turned-entreprenuer. It was a transformational experience. The impressive lineup of speakers included Uber’s Chief Brand Officer, Bozoma Saint John, entrepreneur and capital investor, Terri Matthews, beauty blogger, Jade Kendle, dermatologic surgeon, Dr. Michelle Henry, The Black Mirror Project creator, Deddeh Howard, entrepreneur and yoga instructor, Dr. Sanaa Jaman, and ColorComm founder Lauren Wesley Wilson.

During a keynote called “Art of African Influence,” Saint John spoke about standing in one’s truth and showing up fully in life. Growing up in America in a Ghanaian household she shared how her mother made it clear that there was to be “no excuse for being us. We spoke our language and we ate our food.” From such an upbringing she now believes, “If you have fear about showing up as yourself anywhere then you do not belong there.”

In her talk about “the Art of Communication,” Lauren Wesley Wilson invited each woman to introduce herself and her profession and to say one thing she needed to step up to her next level. Terri Matthews spoke on the “Art of Showing Up,” reminding everyone about the importance of listening to the spirit and honoring the places God invites us to act. Other speakers talked about the art of disruption, networking, self-care, meditation and fearlessness.

The retreat was as rich in attendees as speakers. The Colored Girl Inc., brought together a diverse group of resourceful women who came ready to share their expertise and vulnerabilities. There was little pretense about the ease of succeeding as a woman of color. Attendee Camille Thomas is an entrepreneur who runs The Vision Investment, a coaching company geared towards “powerhouse women who look like they have it all together but deep inside they know they have been playing small.” Thomas said she came to IMARA because when she finally realized that she was hiding from her own life due to grief. “A veil was lifted and I was ready to be visible,” she said. “So I came because I knew I needed to be reminded of who I am, and to see how other brilliant women of color are being visible.”

The retreat was also a game-changer for many of us and a tangible reminder of the power and value of Black women showing up for one another and affirming one another’s journeys. It provided a safe space — a place we felt seen, recognized, affirmed and celebrated. It was ultimately the sort of necessary psychic recharge that can help sustain us as we returned to communities where our presence as Black women might be challenged as a threat and an affront.

Jones and Elizabeth founded The Colored Girls Inc (TCG) as a hybrid creative agency because they wanted a platform to represent women of color in mainstream media the way “we” want to see ourselves. When they noticed many ads and platforms didn’t understand the fullness and the needs of women of color they decided to create beauty and fashion campaigns as tools of positive change by being beautifully disruptive. The IMARA vision is for women of color to come together to share, connect, inspire, motivate and empower each other.

“We based the retreat at the Jnane Tamsna boutique hotel in Morocco because we felt it was important for women to leave their comfort zones and commune in a beautiful, neutral space. Meryanne Loum-Martin, who owns Jnane Tamsna is publicly recognized as the first Black woman to own and open a boutique hotel in Morocco. This was significant if we were going to bring a group of Black women together to be inspired,” said The Colored Girl Inc’s Victory Jones.

A writer, speaker, and teacher, Enuma Okoro attended the IMARA conference to speak on “Art of Attraction” and decision making for living our best lives, stressing the importance of investing in ourselves, setting intentions, and doing our inner work.