Black women

Feature: Taylor Johnson-Gordon, Food Healer, Herbalist, & Urban Gardener

Taylor Johnson-Gordon is a Black womanist, food healer, herbalist, and urban gardener. Her work intersects food sovereignty, healing work as a form of political resistance, and the Black Church. Taylor believes that the body is our first site of resistance and her mission is to help black women and girls heal and build physical resiliency through real, affordable food.

I met Taylor Johnson-Gordon at the #BlackChurchSex convening. I immediately noticed t an effervescence that was so refreshing. Upon our conversation, we realized just how many mutual friends & connections we had. Her good work proceeded her, as well as the praise of our mutual friends on just her generous spirit!

It has been a wonderful journey as I’ve become more familiar with Taylor & her work in food healing – adjusting my own diet & herb cabinets to include some of the staples she’s introduced me to! So, I wanted to e-introduce her to my readers here because I truly believe that her passions & thoughts around healing as resistance are integral to us getting free! Text below is largely her own, to preserve the integrity of her words.

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The break down of Taylor’s work is extensive. It includes adult nutrition in corner stores, supermarkets, churches, housing complexes, farmers markets, and community centers in North Philadelphia with The Food Trust. Taylor is also an afro-vegan and founder of Sistah of the Yam, a webspace and a series of community programs for Black women and girls that prioritize healing, nutritional wellness, and self-sufficiency through the act of growing food and cooking. The target audience of her work is clear: Black women & girls. To this, she states:

“I unapologetically center the lives and needs of Black women and girls, because we are routinely told that we are not deserving of being at the center.

I unapologetically center Black girls and women because I believe that we as Black people are only fully free to the extent that our Black women and girls are free.

Black women are known for lighting the torch for freedom and doing the work by any means necessary, yet we are routinely erased and abused in the process. Our self-sacrifice leaves us with broken hearts, reproductive disease, emotional eating disorders, low-self esteem, deep loneliness, and unresolved anger.

So, my work involves creating a space for Black women to engage in Black liberation work by concretely focusing on themselves via the food they eat. My tools are my hands, a good knife, and a cast iron skillet. In my experience, saying “yes” to prioritizing physical health has been the biggest obstacle for the women that I interact with. As a result, I rarely interact with a Black woman who has not had a diet related illness or dis-ease. This a result of a white supremacist system that is anti-black and that positions black women at the bottom. This is also a result of a lack of community support. I often think about how Black women are the most churched demographic in our pews, yet we are the poorest and least supported and visible. In my work, these are the very women that I am accountable to. This is why my approach to health and nutrition is always through the lens of affordability and practicality. I encourage making homemade stews/soups and eating beans and rice and leftovers, because these are affordable and highly nutritious. I don’t encourage buying specialty vegan meats because they have a lot of sodium, additives, high processing, and they are  also expensive. I try to teach the art of cooking intuitively, using substitutions for things they don’t have, and knowing how to listen to what their body is telling them that they need.

Taylor’s path to facilitating healing through healthy food is as interesting as the work itself!

“This work really chose me (via God and my ancestors). Growing up, I always thought that I was going to become a medical doctor. I entered college with that determination, studying biology and spending half my time as a pre-med student. Midway through my sophomore year, I realized that it wasn’t “me” (though I couldn’t necessarily pinpoint the “why”). I quit the pre-med program but continued with my biology degree.

My sophomore year was an extremely intense and dark time. I had to create a new identity for myself – outside of what I had thought my chosen path was. Now, almost 10 years later, I have the clarity to see how that experience was preparing me for my current work. To be clear: I think we still need Black doctors in the health care system and medical field. However, my path towards becoming a healer outside of this system (through food education, integrative nutrition, black foodway history, and herbalism) has allowed me to go through the growing pains of healing first hand. The fact that this work is very personal to my own wellness and healing allows me a greater level of authenticity in my work.

Taylor formally received her Bachelors in Biology and a Master of Arts in Christian Education. Currently, she is pursuing her Master of Science in Nutrition & Integrative Health with a focus on Herbal Medicine.

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From @sistayoftheyam #BlackHistoryEats food nutrition campaign on IG

She leaves with us the following information, ideas, and tips:

1. Food is inherently political. Eating real, nutrient dense food is a deeply political practice. When we eat real food we are saying that our bodies matter … not only to us, but to God, our community, and our ancestors.

2. Cooking nutrient rich food from scratch doesn’t require fancy tools. Don’t spend your money on fancy sauces and dressings; those things can be made at home with half the amount of sodium and no trans fat or additives — save that money for something else. Get yourself a good, sharp knife (Ross and Marshall’s sell pretty great marked down ones!), a cutting board, and a good skillet. Start building up your spice and herb cabinet and getting a couple of great heart-healthy oils on deck (I recommend always having one for low heat/baking and one for high heat).

3. Black women can be vegan and/or vegetarian and still have curves! Some many sisters are really nervous about dropping a ton of weight if they choose a plant-based diet. While that may be true for some, it is by no means everyone’s reality. Being a Black woman who is thick, curvy, healthy and vegan is in itself a paradox for most folks. I am not what many folks picture when they think of veganism (or nutrition for that matter)! Even though I have struggled with this in the past, I have come to realize that it’s also one of my greatest advantages in the work that I do. It makes me relatable.

4. I am convinced that being well is our birthright as black women. I believe that wellness through food can be developed and expanded to include every black girl and woman, regardless of class and economic status.

Taylor lives in Philly with her husband Jason (they are both amazing) & you can follow Taylor’s work at http://www.sistahoftheyam.com and @sistahoftheyam on Instagram!

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Taylor Johnson-Gordon, @sistahoftheyam, enjoying the fruits of the earth!

Feature Photo Credit: Jason C. Johnson-Gordon

Jade’s Faves Features: Coriama Couture

Amazing initiatives have the power to bring amazing people together. This past fall, I facilitated a Beauty Breaks workshop session on style & resilience. [Beauty Breaks is is a life-giving and innovative series on Black beauty & holistic wellness, founded by artist Amina Ross (who is one of my favorite people, truly)]. Coriama Couture was also presenting on affordable grooming & beauty practices. [You can click here for the recap].

Since that time, coriama couture has taught me a great deal about the ways in which we can de-stigmatize sexuality, beauty tips for Black women / femmes (especially ones that can fit my budget), and more. Of course, I wanted my readers to meet her too and get a chance to see her work! Text below is largely her own, used with permission, in order stay true to the heart of her work & mission.

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Photo Credit: Kamali Whitney, 2015

Coriama Couture is an Artist, Activator, and Aesthetician who utilizes the ABCS (Art, Beauty, Culture, and Sexuality) to encourage radical dialogue and community building. She sees the ability to explore and challenge taboo topics within culture as a rite of passage; a necessary element for liberation and freedom that should be celebrated. Currently, she is curating a community popup forum called sex KiKi and hopes to encourage more radical dialogue and safe spaces for queer black femmes* in Chicago and beyond. sex KiKi is inclusive space that privileges the spectrum of black femininity so trans* and cis women are welcome, as well as allies.

Her work primarily serves femmes of the Black diaspora, ages 21+, as she notes:

The Beauty Industry is constantly bombarded with images of a European aesthetic, the policing of the black femme body, and an overall lack of resources for us. For example, the beauty industry is saturated with beauty advisors who often don’t know how to color match for foundation or choose to tell black femmes anything (in terms of beauty practices / products) to get our dime. In addition, we already deal with economic oppression, so the resources we have might be limited and contingent upon what is necessary to live.

In this field, sometimes I deal with community members (black femmes) who prefer to only see white colleagues / beauty advisors to find the proper cosmetic products. My hands-on experience has been that this may be connected to deeper issues of acceptance (and internalized pop-notions of “beauty”). I have much compassion for that, since I have had to deal with my own issues with embracing my black beauty.

Honestly, I believe your trauma can often be connected to your work! I grew up with serious self-esteem issues. I hadn’t grown into my full lips and feared my melanin. The beauty industry happened to be one of the first places I landed a job; since my temper in my younger years caused me to switch jobs often.

Now, I believe that beauty is a tool for empowerment. I continue to challenge myself to utilize it for that purpose and not to mask insecurity (as it can be / has been used). I encourage with warmth and enthusiasm. I always lead with kindness and compassion in these situations because I have been them and see myself in this process toward liberation. I am still undergoing the decolonization of my own lifestyle and mind, as well!

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Educating & brow mapping at Beauty Breaks workshop, Photo Credit: Ally Almore, 2015

Coriama Couture is also the curator for pop-up community forum, titled, sex KiKi. In regards to this area of work, she says:

“Sexual liberation is really important to me. Sexuality was always apart of my life. In my late teens, I can recall enjoying lesbian porn (the good kind; there is a difference)! Yet, there can be a lot of trauma that comes with being a sexually free person. People can equate / conflate freedom with having no boundaries at all, which isn’t true!

Oppression and internalized oppression is also a part of the battle when it comes to sexual wellness and conversations about sexuality. For example, we can deal with some very problematic ideas – about gender, gender roles, notions of what family is / can be, harmful views about homosexuality. I’ve also seen misogynistic views expressed, even coming from cis-het* (cisgender, heterosexual) black femmes in the space (I understand much of this phenomena as a coping mechanism, to somehow fit into the constraints of the patriarchy while simultaneously being denied access). These challenging conversations have their pros and cons but ultimately, I believe are powerful and pivotal when breaking the mental chains of colonization”.

Her advice to readers:
“Exploration is apart of growing and sometimes the worst judgements we experience are the judgements we put on ourselves. It can be liberating to do things for our own lives! Keep a beauty journal, a sex journal, or just journal. I feel fresh and renewed each day that I decipher my own thoughts from those of others. The more I worry about others, the less effortless my life becomes… the less I am able to live on my own terms. This process is difficult but I feel less anxiety living this way.

Find rituals that help ground you – music, chanting, dancing, or bitching in front of the mirror for 10 minutes to get the bull out! Hey, it works! Lastly, don’t be scared to explore another lifestyle option. I’ve found that hetero and married doesn’t always equal happy and in love (as is often suggested). So, we have to be sure to love on our OWN terms”.

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Facials, brow waxing, and refreshments from coriama couture’s Wax Day Off

Check out more of her work on http://www.coriamacouture.com/ and if you live in the Chicagoland area, check out sex KiKi or Coriama’s Wax Day Off!