I’m Brianna Nelson and I am the Founder of WOCDC. In my personal life, I am a black womxn who enjoys anime, food, creative writing, cats and music. In my professional life, I am a community builder, youth worker and youth engagement specialist. In getting to know WOCDC and the community we have developed within our team, I wanted to take the time to tell you about the journey I took to get to where we are today.
My inspiration for WOCDC came from my own personal experiences. It was the middle of Grade 8 and a 13 year-old Brianna had moved to Durham Region from Toronto. It didn’t take long for me to figure out that as a young black girl, I didn’t quite fit in. For starters, I was one of four black people in my entire grade, and one of two in my class. No one else dressed like me, listened to the same music as me, and it slowly became obvious that I needed to change – to assimilate – in order to be welcomed by other students.
So, I did. I changed myself to fit in with others and sure enough people slowly started gravitating towards me once I started to wear the clothes they wore and listened to the music they listened to. I seamlessly made friends, which somehow (in my mind), made up for the days where I ate lunch alone in the stairwell or in the bathroom.
Four years of High School went by in more or less the same way. By then, I was extremely comfortable diminishing my sense of identity and individuality. I was essentially watering myself down in order to be more palatable. And I didn’t realize just how much it was all costing me until my fourth year of university.
Even though I was always yearning for real connections, friendships, sisterhood and a sense of community, I had managed to become a pro at self-isolation. I was carrying so much emptiness and resentment inside of myself that It all reached a point where I knew I needed a change.
So, I stepped into the uncomfortable and honed in on my style. I went natural! I actively tried to delve into my identity as a black womxn and by my fifth year of university, I was able to reclaim what was rightfully always mine; my identity and my joy. Now, I’d be lying if I said it was all positive – it wasn’t. I had no sense of direction, was always stressed and anxious, and as I navigated through my tumultuous journey, I realized that I had developed mental and physical health issues.
I never had the opportunity, or space, to be me. I did not have friends who supported me or that I identified with. My move from Toronto was truly a culture shock and I had to cope with it all by myself…just like so many other self-identified womxn of colour.
Durham may have been becoming more multicultural day by day, but I knew it still had a long way to go when it came to a shift in services and systems. For instance, there weren’t enough open, interactive and safe spaces to promote the development of sustainable diverse communities.
And so, I sat on this for a couple of months and waited to see if someone would step up to the plate and lead this cause in our community. When that didn’t happen, I thought, “why not me?” and began brainstorming. I put out a survey on my personal Instagram with the intention of starting conversations regarding my experience in Durham and quickly realized that so many other people also felt just as isolated and unrepresented. That was all the encouragement that I needed.
In February of 2019, I created the Womxn of Colour Durham Collective (WOCDC) with the mission of supporting and empowering young self-identified womxn of colour between the ages of 16-29+. I put out applications to build a team and turns out, people deeply resonated with my vision. WOCDC is now a team of 11 womxn of colour who either live in, or are connected to Durham Region.
2020 Team Photo
2019 Team Photo
As a community organization, we have so many plans to make Durham a welcoming place for young womxn. We really hope that we’re able to reaffirm to young womxn of colour that they have a place here, and that they are important. That their stories are important and that they deserve to be heard. We want our collective to be a safe place for them where we can all create sustainable channels for open communication, healing and support.
I’d like to finish this off in two ways: Firstly, I want to personally encourage you to join and support our cause. Whether it means signing up as a member or ally, or donating to us, your support will be key when it comes to launching our community program, social events and so much more. And lastly, I’d like to thank each and everyone in Durham Region that has taken their time to move mountains and create change. We see you. Thank you.