This is part of WTOP’s continuing coverage of people making a difference from our community authored by Stephanie Gaines-Bryant. Read more of that coverage.
Each morning she puts on her superwoman cape and heads out the door to save her family, her community and even the world.
That’s a belief that many women of color have adhered to for hundreds of years, one that continues to threaten their mental health.
Award-winning author and literary activist, Marita Golden says the strong Black woman complex dates back to slavery and is “deeply embedded in African American life and culture.”
“Because of the horrors and harshness of our conditions, we had to be strong,” Golden says.
The author said there was little time to think about their emotional needs, so Black women adopted the persona of the strong Black woman. A DC native and co-founder of the Zora Neale Hurston/Richard Wright Foundation writes about it in her book, “The Strong Black Woman: How a Myth Endangers the Physical and Mental Health of Black Women.”
Golden says it’s very powerful and inspiring to say you are a strong Black woman, but there’s a dark side.
“If you’re talking about being strong all the time, you’re talking about sacrificing your mental well-being as well as your health,” she said.
She discovered a vibrant and energetic community, on social media and all-around, discussing mental health and African Americans when she began writing the book in 2020. She believes the pandemic pushed the discussion to the forefront.
“The book interrogates what it means to be strong and talks about developing a new definition,” Golden says.
Golden, who grew up in the Columbia Heights area of D.C., has been an advocate for Black women living a healthy lifestyle for decades. After losing her parents in her early 20s, one to heart disease, another to a stroke, Golden committed herself to a healthy diet and exercising.
“I made a decision early on that I was going to live longer than my parents,” she said, noting that her parents died in their early 60s. She says she has already outlived them by a decade, so far.
The acclaimed writer of 19 fiction and non-fiction books and graduate of American University and Columbia University, has also been a literary activist in the Washington area for over thirty years.
In 1990, Golden and bibliophile Clyde McElvene co-founded the Zora Neale Hurston/Richard Wright Foundation to create a community for Black writers. The foundation holds summer writer’s workshops, public readings and the Legacy Award for Black writers in an effort to create opportunities for them locally and around the world.