Creating sacred space that unapologetically centers Black women and people
By: Aileen Balahadia, N2N Program Consultant and Elaine Chu, Senior Philanthropic Officer
During a Neighbor 2 Neighbor (N2N) virtual site visit with Wonder of Women International (WOW), we got a glimpse of their gallery space in downtown Seattle, and we immediately realized that Zoom just didn’t do justice to the kind of space so lovingly curated by WOW leadership. Some of our staff had to take a trip to see for themselves. As we walked in, you could immediately feel the sacred space created by the founder, Veronica Very, and her co-founder Hiawatha D.. The gallery exuded the presence of a safe and brave sanctuary, giving us a sense of belonging and self-identity.
WOW is one of 10 organizations funded by N2N for Fall 2021. Their mission is to restore and empower Black people by creating a beautiful sanctuary dedicated to Black love and art, that also serves as a cultural institute where they can experience hospitality, renewal, holistic healing, agricultural, and lifelong learning. This sacred space also provides leadership and learning opportunities for non-black people, corporations, and organizations to engage race and equity work at a beautiful place intentionally centering African American culture. WOW has served 1,862 Black women and girls through retreats and workshops since 2016. If you include their national work and partnerships, this number grows to several thousands.
We often begin our site visits, especially when welcoming new organizations to N2N, with questions about their journey and passion for their organization. Khianna Calica, a member of WOW, shared, “With a mixed heritage and background, I needed to find a place where I could honor my Black identity, allowing all parts of me to thrive.” WOW co-founder Very also shared that the creation of the organization was borne to empower Black women and girls to stand in their truth and tell their story in a place of culturally centered healing and community.
WOW is laser focused on their community and chose to prioritize its primary services on Black women and girls because they are the ones subjected to the greatest health, economic, and racial disparities. Black women are undeniably foundational community builders and caretakers for Black people, and the exhibit’s Pacific Place location is a physical manifestation of how WOW is centering their contributions. The decision to site the current gallery location at PacificPlace in the heart of downtown was intentional. When the opportunity presented itself, Very knew it was the right location.
“We were all part of the racial reckoning uprise and protests after the murder of George Floyd in 2020. It made total sense for us to ‘take up space’ in a former Victoria Secret store in the economic corridor of downtown Seattle where the streets were filled with protestors demanding change,” Very said. “This is our way of protesting for healing and mental health through stories and art. Because the power of Black women should be seen, and their voices should be heard in boardrooms and every vital space in the heart of the downtown financial district.”
N2N support will allow WOW to continue the central work of the WOW gallery as a space of community healing, engagement, education, and mobilization. These activities empower Black women through sisterhood connections, support, affirmations, love, leadership, and other skills. This kind of healing allows Black women to grow stronger and more liberated to be leaders, thinkers, and activists in the quest for a healthier life and community. These women in turn will strengthen and empower their communities, their families, their workplaces, and friends.
While reflecting, Very proudly spoke of WOW and its impact. “We have created a beautiful space that centers Black women and girls for the entire community to heal, learn, and be inspired by history making Black women ancestors, elders, and queens to disrupt the rotation of emotional grief and racial traumas with stories that bring us all the hope we so desperately need.”
To learn more about WOW, please visit them at: https://www.thewonderofwomen.org.
The full list of N2N Fall 2021 grantees are listed below. For more information about N2N, please contact Program Consultant Aileen Balahadia at 206-250-4299.
The full list of N2N Fall 2021 grantees are:
*First time grantee of N2N
**Also, the first grant ever received by the organization
Italicized organizations will receive funding provided in part by Meta, as part of its ongoing commitment to support Black business, creators, and nonprofits. Learn more about our partner’s impact, here.