Name: Rowana Abbensetts-Dobson
Where do you live now? - Atlanta, Georgia
Industry: Media & Publishing
What does it mean to you to have a voice?
It means to trust your inner voice and open your heart up again and again to share your story.
How did you find your voice?
I found my voice through my culture and the environment I was raised in. I am the daughter of Guyanese immigrants and I grew up in South Jamaica, Queens, an Afro-Caribbean neighborhood. As a kid, I loved having such easy access to my culture. I remember Caribbean bakeries and eateries all over as well as reggae and soca parties lasting until the early hours during the summer. Growing up in Queens made me a staunch advocate for diversity and allowed me to have friends of all different races and cultural backgrounds.
What event or series of events helped you find your voice?
Self-expression was encouraged by my parents growing up, especially by my dad who is an artist. I recall him pushing me to paint and draw. Books were also available to me and the library was my happy place. I naturally started to write. I remember clearly one particular event that helped me find my voice. When 9/11 happened, I wrote a poem about it and I shared it with my family and class. It seemed so unlikely that me, a 9-year-old at the time, could capture what everyone was feeling, but I'll never forget the praise and support I received after reading it. It made me realize that I had a gift to share, something that could resonate with other people.
How did 2020 help you refine/redefine your voice?
2020 gave me this urgency to put myself out there, specifically with my book, Departure Story. I spent years perfecting the story but it never felt like "enough" or "ready." When faced with my own mortality and the mortality of my family and friends, I felt the urge to do whatever I could to move forward and get the book published. It has been a scary journey but I'm extremely glad I did it.
Whose voice are you influenced by?
So many people have influenced and supported me across the span of my life. It always seemed like the right person would appear at the right time to push me, knowing that my confidence was low and offering the perfect words of encouragement. Sometimes it came from classmates, sometimes it came from a teacher, a workshop leader, or my mom.
One piece of advice I would like to share is to never put anyone on a pedestal. Even heroes disappoint sometimes. No one person is meant to save you and nobody can stand in the way of you getting the career of your dreams. Before anyone else’s, follow your intuition.
How has your voice influenced others, particularly those in your community?
I founded Spoken Black Girl, a publishing and media company that promotes mental health and wellness among Black women and women of color by amplifying emerging voices. I hold a space for women to share their stories, many of which are about the ugly sides of life and struggles. However, I found it beautiful how resilience always transcends their stories.
More generally, I believe that any effort you can put, big or small, towards supporting other women is enough. We all have a lot on our plates, but some things are easy and free, like a compliment, a like, a comment, a purchase, a review. These small gestures can make a huge difference. If you can pass on an opportunity, pass it on. If you can stand in solidarity with a woman, stand up and use your voice. Every bit counts.
Where will your voice lead next?
Right now I’m at a crossroads in life. It’s uncomfortable, but I’m not sure what’s next for me. The only thing I can say for sure is that I’ll keep writing. I’ve been asking myself the right questions and listening for the answers through meditation and journaling. I guess you’ll just have to follow along to find out!
Rowana Abbensetts-Dobson is a Guyanese-American writer, mental health advocate, and founder of Spoken Black Girl, a publishing and media company that promotes mental health and wellness among Black women and women of color by amplifying emerging voices. Rowana has had fiction and poetry published in Moko Magazine, Obsidian: Literature & Arts in the African Diaspora, Culture Push, and Free Verse Magazine. As a freelance health and wellness writer, Rowana has written for Well +Good, Bold Culture by Streamlined Media, The Tempest, and Electric Lit. Her debut novel, Departure Story, published by Spoken Black Girl Publishing on June 1, 2021, is now available for your reading pleasure.
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