Psychologist Joy Harden Bradford on the Power of Black Women’s Friendships 

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I created Therapy for Black Girls in 2014 after watching “Black Girls Rock!” on BET. The energy from just watching from my living room was palpable. I thought it would be really cool to be able to create something with that same kind of energy for Black women related to mental health. I started it as a place where I was blogging about different mental health topics and then added the podcast and the therapist directory in 2017 as a way to continue talking about mental health and provide resources.

Strides are being made, but there is still a significant amount of stigma related to mental health in the Black community. Most of us have not grown up in homes where parents or grandparents had gone to therapy, and there’s a lot of concern around talking about your family’s dirty laundry in public. There is still a lot of misinformation around therapy and not enough information about what it is and how it can be helpful.

I’ve seen firsthand how helpful it can be. When I receive emails or run into people who listen to the podcast or read the book, and share how a podcast episode made them decide to go to therapy, or how they were able to have a conversation with their mom because it’s something that was mentioned in the podcast or in the book, it’s been such a rewarding experience. And I want to further that through my book, Sisterhood Heals: The Transformative Power of Healing in Community.

As my career has grown, it has been really important for me to stay connected to my sister-friends who have known me since college. With them, I feel like I can just be Joy. I don’t have to lean into these career pieces or other things that people may expect of me. I can be myself and that has been really grounding and affirming for me.

The book is as much a celebration of Black women’s relationships with one another as it is a challenge for us to lean more into them and to do a better job of supporting each other. I want people to read the book and then discuss things in the group chat. I want them to talk more about how they’re showing up in their sister circles and how they can do a better job of supporting the women in their circles. I also want us to extend more grace and compassion to one another. The world is often so difficult, and so hostile to Black women so it is important that we be safe spaces for one another.

The following is an excerpt from Dr. Joy Harden Bradford’s book, Sisterhood Heals: The Transformative Power of Healing in Community.

Being open to new sister-friends at any stage of our lives should be a goal we all aim for. The truth is that you probably haven’t met all the people who will love you, and being open to finding new people who can add to the rich relationships you might already have is a kind and loving act toward your own healing.

It takes a certain amount of self-trust when stepping out there to find new friends. Do you trust your own ability to evaluate a person who enters your life and know whether or not they are someone you want to get to know better? Part of trusting yourself and gaining that confidence comes with knowing that you don’t have to stay in any situation that doesn’t feel the way you would like it to. Just like in our romantic relationships, every sister you meet is not the one. Don’t go into a situation with a stranger and tell them all your business or do too much too soon.  

If you meet a sister who seems really cool, maybe the first step is exchanging Instagram handles. Then maybe stay connected through random DMs every now and then. Maybe the relationship stays in that realm—that’s okay. Or maybe you are able to move forward to meeting. Share a little bit and see what they are willing to share.

Being intentional about what you’re looking for in terms of friendship can help guide your first steps on this path. Are you looking for more mom friends or friends to run with? Ideally, you’d want to start spending time in places where these people congregate — such as an organization at your child’s school or a local running group. And while it can help to be intentional, I also want you to remain open to the surprise and delight of a sister entering your life in a package you weren’t even expecting. 

Finding community online 

I honestly believe that one of the best places to find your people is online. There is literally a digital space for everything you could possibly be interested in. Now, of course, I have to start by telling you what we do over in the Therapy for Black Girls Sister Circle. I describe it as our cozy corner of the internet designed just for Black women. It’s a great space to be in if you’re looking for a place to connect with sisters across the world. We have conversations about all kinds of things like mental health, personal development, pop culture, haircare, and travel. We also have weekly events designed for sisters to unwind, learn, and play together. We’d love to have you join us.

If you’re an app person, there are a few apps that have been created to help women connect to other women with like interests. Some women I know have found great success with Bumble BFF, and I’ve also heard good things about Hey! VINA. I know apps can be a bit scary and they’re not for everyone, but, no worries, there are lots of other options.

Twitter and Instagram can also be good spaces to find sisters with similar interests or events that might be of interest. Start by following hashtags that are likely to take you to spaces where Black women congregate, such as #BlackGirlMagic, #CiteBlackWomen, #BlackBookstagram, #BuyFromABlackWoman, and #BlackGirlsRun. 

The digital spaces where I’ve seen Black women have the most success with finding their people are Facebook groups. Love gardening? Black Girls Garden has a community of sisters just waiting for you to join them. Black Girl Magic: The Peloton Edition is a wonderful place to find Black women spinners. To find groups type an interest into the Facebook search bar and then filter by groups. Similar to engagement in real life, when participating in an online space, it’s a good idea to release the expectation that you’ll be able to find your new best friend. 

Finding community in person 

If online is not for you, what about the sister who always sits next to you in yoga? How do you think it might go if you ask the sister if she’d like to grab a smoothie? Sometimes our new friends aren’t that new at all. I believe that there are often sisters in our lives whom we could be closer to with just a little effort and courage. 

Another option is going to the places you enjoy even if it means going solo. Do the things you are interested in and there’s a high probability that you’ll meet other people in those spaces with whom you have at least one thing in common. Sign up for that photography class or grab tickets for the history walking tour.

Getting involved with organizations or attending events that champion causes that are important to us or that cater to interests we enjoy is another great way to find like-minded sisters. You can find these on Eventbrite, using Instagram or TikTok, or by looking at the public events of local colleges and universities.

Connecting with new friends

After you successfully shoot your shot and Sis says she’d love to grab lunch, I want you to work hard at showing up to the lunch as the most “you” version of you possible. This is your opportunity to show up as authentically as you can in hopes that you can truly connect with someone with a like mind. Be confident in the knowledge that who you are, where you’ve been, and what you desire is enough. 

Whether they end up in your wedding or you never run into them again, being open to finding friendships and meeting new people—the very act of that—is healing all by itself. You did it! You knew that there might be judgment. You knew that rejection was possible, and yet you went for it anyway. If it does not go anywhere past that first lunch, be gentle with yourself and try not to pick yourself apart.

The process of putting ourselves out there to meet new people isn’t always easy, but it’s courageous and important. I’ve had the amazing opportunity to witness the many ways in which community exists for sisters. From city meetups to “mommy groups,” to church groups and volunteer opportunities, to digital spaces for Black women who love to build furniture or decorate planners. There is literally a community of Black women for every sister. Find yours!

From Sisterhood Heals: The Transformative Power of Healing in Community, by Joy Harden Bradford, PhD, published by Ballantine Books. Copyright © 2023 by Joy Harden Bradford, PhD.  

Joy Harden Bradford, Ph.D., is a licensed psychologist and the host of the award-winning mental health podcast “Therapy for Black Girls.” Her work focuses on making mental health topics and support more relevant and accessible for Black women.  

Buy: Sisterhood Heals: The Transformative Power of Healing in Community $22.09

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