The world can be a hostile place for Black women, so we often need safe spaces we can rest in. One of them can be in the familiar and warm folds of true friendship. It’s National Friendship Day, which is a good time to reflect on friends who have made our lives richer.
Let’s begin by looking at the importance of friends in our everyday lives. A 2021 research article published in Frontiers in Psychology shared findings of a study that examined the effects of valuing friendship on the health of 232,200 individuals from 99 countries around the world. It found that there’s an association between placing a high value on friendship and better health, well-being and happiness. This was especially true for individuals in countries where there is high income inequality and individualism.
Anyone who has experienced true quality friendships knows that having someone you can share your life with outside of immediate family or romantic connections can be a gift. Friendships are often a common denominator throughout our many life changes and provide a sense of home despite what direction we grow in. Those of us can who say we’ve had friends for decades and counting will attest that they add immense value to our lives. This isn’t to say that longer friendships are the highest quality ones, but it’s just a reminder of how friendships can be be an anchor throughout your evolution as a person.
Alicia Graham, a clinical scientist located in Margate, Fla. has had a friendship that has spanned over 18 years. One of the things she values about her friendships as a Black woman is the intimate, safe space they provide for her. “That friendship means the world to me. It’s honestly like having a soulmate in friendship form,” says Graham. “This person adds balance to your life by being a support system when life may or may not be at its best. They’re there to lift you up, but also celebrate your wins. This friendship adds comfort to my life. It makes me feel like I have this person I feel safe with to express my thoughts and be vulnerable to. To find that kind of comfort is gold.”
Good friends provide safety, which is something we Black women don’t have much of in society at large. That safety may look like being able to share your trauma or having someone you can tell your mistakes to who won’t berate or judge you. A judgment-free zone is something Sherrika Mitchell, a placement specialist and poet based in Houston, values about her relationships.
“Friendship is the family you choose, who you can be your authentic self with without judgment but that person still holds you accountable,” Mitchell says. And if you’re a Black woman, you know how vital this is in a world that picks us apart for existing and gives us very little room to make mistakes.
That said, a friendship can be a relationship that cultivates your growth as a person. We grow through having people, with love, make us answerable for our actions as Mitchell mentioned and also through conflict, encouragement, honesty, vulnerability, true acceptance, and intimate connection. This process of growth within relationships is often muddy and messy, but that doesn’t make it any less beautiful.
If we think back to the show Girlfriends, we can see examples of how conflict, forgiveness, understanding and empathy can be opportunities for growth within a friendship. Maya, Lynn, Toni and Joan went through the ebbs and flows of life together and managed to come out stronger each time. Other examples of Black friendships from TV that show us the many phases of such relationships and how they can facilitate growth include Moesha and Kim from Moesha, Kim and Whitley from A Different World, and Wilona and Florida from Good Times.
Aloni ‘Lala’ Green, a glam consultant and celebrity makeup artist based in San Francisco tells ESSENCE her longest friendship is of 20 years. She shares that friendships have added value to her life by challenging her to be more responsible, kind, loving, and mindful.
“To me, friendship is a journey consisting of those who have mutual interest, likeness for one another, and a commitment to champion for each other’s self development, and evolution,” Green says.
She continues, “Friendships have made my life richer by being an outlet and construct that allows me to evolve into a quality person. And by being that quality person, I continue to expand in the world and attract the riches of life. Both materially and spiritually.”
Friendships can be valuable for individuals who don’t have any siblings or don’t have the best relationships with family members. In scenarios like these, friends can easily become the family you don’t feel you have and knowing you can choose your family is empowering. Having a sister or multiple sisters from another mother can also help minimize feelings of loneliness and isolation. It’s also a way to build a sisterhood—a community many Black women are likely familiar with.
“As an only child friendship means a lot to me,” says Larrise Williford, a registered nurse from Cleveland, Ohio. She continues, “They are there to celebrate my wins, critique my wrongs, wipe my tears and motivate me when needed. My friendships have given me so much perspective on life and how it is truly a journey. I love my girls and would do almost anything to see them happy and thriving.”
We are often afraid to be our true and authentic selves out loud as Black women, but friendships provide a space for us to be that and more. It’s a form of fellowship where we can cock our heads back, laugh from our diaphragms without being labeled loud, express disappointment without being tagged the “angry Black women,” and be vulnerable enough to admit we’re weak so we can pull strength from those around us. If you have friends who have been there for you and still hold you down, reach out to them today and tell them what you value most about your friendship turned sisterhood. While none are guaranteed to last forever, they can leave an indelible mark in your life and that’s always something to be thankful for.