By Allyn Gaestel
Souls of My Young Sisters is an inspiring book written by young women, for young women. The stories the authors share are glaringly honest and brutally real. Women speak of their struggles ranging from domestic violence to heartbreak, body image and career trials. But these women are all survivors, and they share the inspiration that pulled them through dark times with other young women.
Candace Sandy, one of the authors of the book explained: “For young African American women, there are staggering statistics about single motherhood, about poverty, about HIV. As we get older, about heart disease and strokes. There is also this amazing power of when these women get older they become the center of their families, they are cleaning up messes of their family, and taking in other children, they are the influencers, they may not have anything but they are going to give anything that they can to the children in their lives…so what we want to try to do, through the voices of the young women is to say look, first let’s know who we are and then let’s take control of how we’re being positioned and what our stories are.“
The book is written for women in the twentysomething range, which perhaps explains why it spoke to me so deeply (I being a twentysomething woman), but Sandy hopes the stories will transcend the pages, and women will speak to younger sisters about it. She said: “the thirteen year olds are acting pretty much like eighteen year olds and unfortunately in some communities you may have twentysomethings with a 13 year old. So we’re trying to have honest dialogue with these women and hopefully they will start having dialogue with the younger people in their lives to be able to dispel the myths.”
The stories are framed as first-person accounts of struggles women have overcome with an emphasis on what pulled them through and how they used these challenges to become stronger individuals.
Starr Murrell’s story speaks on her heartbreak when she found out the man she had been centering her life around was simultaneously engaged to someone else. She had pulled away from her career as a dancer and model to focus on building a home with him, only to find herself with nothing when the truth came out.
She had never shared her story until Sandy invited her to a focus group during the early stages of the book’s development. From speaking with the women in the room, she found her voice and was inspired to incorporate an honest and open portrayal of her life into her work in fashion, media and acting. “This whole process is very cathartic, it’s been therapy…writing all these feelings down and reading them back to myself, you kind of see the growth and you see where you were and where you are now. It’s great. I see a stronger woman, I see someone who is more confident and independent, and also someone who is more loving and able to not hold on to grudges or ill will.”
Aleia Moore survived a horrific car crash as a child, and was not expected to live, but with therapy and perseverance she was able to rebuild and go on to academic and professional success. She is already a published author, and her collection of poems “Pieces of Me” has been available since October. Speaking to me at a posh press event for the book at Covet lounge she said: “As we can see, with therapy and prayer and perseverance everything turned out well, and the gist of my story is that if you’re dedicated and you work hard and you continue to press on, that you can overcome anything that’s put in front of you”
The women framed their stories as gifts and messages to other people. Everyone spoke of the hope of fostering sisterhood and letting people know they are not alone in their struggles. Kimberly Cooper, another contributor wrote of her process of finding her own support through faith to get through the death of both of her parents by the time she was 22, and her first big heartbreak at 32. She emphasized the need to foster community among women: “When sisters get together there is a healing power that comes through that, so I absolutely feel that this can speak for women as well, I mean these are our stories, I’m a woman.”
Cooper called herself a “vessel” and tries to be as transparent as possible with her struggles so that others can learn from her honest portrayal of her journey. “We carry the burden of a lot and we need to be encouraged too, we need to know that it’s ok, we need to know that tomorrow’s going to be a better day, we need to know that we’re not alone.”
While the book is written by and for young women, the messages are meant to transcend any barriers. Sandy said: “We want to just kind of work on us, and the word ‘us’ isn’t limited to African-American women, we embrace all women, because we’re going through a lot.” Murrell reflected, “I think any one, young women, young men, the older demographic, I think anybody that picks up this book “souls of my young sisters” will be touched or moved by it in some sort of way.”
The authors have high hopes for the book, which is now available in stores and online. They aim to make the New York Times bestseller list. There may also be a second edition, and hopefully a book geared toward even younger women.
Souls of My Young Sisters is a follow-up to Souls of My Sisters, which was released to critical acclaim in 2000. Starr Murrell is also hosting a blog talk radio showed inspired by the book, which will air Thursdays at 11pm at http://www.blogtalkradio.com/soulsofmyyoungsisters.