A Profile on Stephanie Pierre of The Melanin Project
Black women are being traumatized and dying at the hands of the misogynoir in maternal and mental healthcare. Finally, there is a program doing something about it. Meet Stephanie Pierre, Founder of The Melanin Project.
(Art credit: Bread, an illustration by Manuja Waldia)
The story of Kira Johnson quickly gained infamy after her devastated husband brought their story before the US Congress. Johnson died at 39 after delivering her second child by C-section despite her husband pleading for hospital staff to take action. This is not a new story, Black women have been dying at higher rates than their White counterparts in childbirth, have suffered more miscarriages or stillbirths and suffer at alarming rates of mental health issues. The age old tropes of the Black women’s tolerance to pain have shaped how the physical and mental health of Black and Brown women are handled from both outside and within the communities.
Eurocentric, capitalist agenda has left the minds and bodies of mothers, daughters and aunties of the diaspora to suffer. Imposed socioeconomic standing, lack of access to education, and chronic health conditions due to privatized medical care cannot explain the statistics. Black women are twice as likely to experience a pregnancy loss and three times more likely to die during pregnancy or childbirth. Data (Roder 2019) shows that for Black women, anxiety is more chronic and the symptoms more intense than their White counterparts (Neal-Barnett).
With all this loss, there is trauma. White women have had history and ideology behind them, buffering the stigma of miscarriage, abortion or pregnancy loss with access to forms of healing. While there is always the option of therapy, this option often fails Black and Brown women because of their socioeconomic status, geographical placement of these services or simply because they cannot afford the time. It comes down to a lack of access that historically has affected communities of color. There has also always been the way of the church, healing of the spirit through a personal relationship with god. While this is a valid and spiritual way of healing, it can often isolate on an individual level. Miscarriage, abortion, and mental health issues such as anxiety or depression, are made to be stigmatized and left to the individual to battle alone. So when mental and maternal health is ignored throughout communities, there should be a communal solution but what are women of the diaspora to do when there are limitations placed on their healing? And though there has been a recent move to reclaim heritage and natural living, whether it’s midwives and doulas dedicating their specialty to the bodies of Black women or Black owned apothecaries using the art of herbal healing, there is communal rejection of the uniform standard placed on women’s mental and physical healing.
Stephanie Pierre is one of the women reclaiming healing for women of color. She has dedicated her life to uplifting the communities of women whose need for mental healing had been ignored. The Melanin Project, in Stephanie’s words, is a “multifaceted wellness company aimed at normalizing emotional wellness and promoting resilience to historically marginalized communities of color.” More importantly, Stephanie’s work encompasses the idea that our suffering should neither be ignored or glorified to promote a diversity stunt, but should be authentic and aim to tap into the strength that has long lived hand in hand with communities of color.
“After experiencing my own loss in 2015, I knew I didn’t want to acknowledge my one-year anniversary alone. For me, it was important to be surrounded by women who could identify with the experience so that we could find comfort in each other’s stories.” Stephanie tells me.
Acknowledging the genesis of The Melanin Project through a miscarriage of her own, began her most notable program, a private pregnancy loss support dinner for women of color, which is open to anyone over the age of 18 needing a safe space to process their emotions whether they’ve experienced a physical loss or not. “After the dinner, I realized how many women I could call on personally who have experienced this type of trauma and immediately recognized that there was an opportunity to serve.”
For Stephanie, there was an inherent call to action, she began hosting her monthly dinners of rebirth in the spring of 2019; for three reasons: “Self care, strategy, and spirit of rebirth.” Using the idea of renewal that springtime creates, Stephanie infuses this idea into her guests’ experience, intertwining the comfort of a home cooked meal, long term emotionally supportive practice such as yoga and some methods, “that other communities would call ‘unconventional’ and later commandeered.” Stephanie says.
“People of color have been healing themselves for centuries.” Stephanie says.
When talking about healing methods, she said, “I recognized that those methods often encompass storytelling, creating art, song, and sharing food; activities that people of the diaspora engage regularly without consciously recognizing Its healing abilities.” She reintroduces these ancient forms of healing with intentions of promoting mental health awareness and wellness. “We believe that Black and Brown people have always been able to offer healing to themselves but have often been denied the space.” The Melanin Project creates this space, whether it’s through breaking bread among women, art installations, or curating spaces that promote her agenda of healing. Emphasizing the importance of dialogue, “Not only are these conversations guided by experienced clinicians of color and packed with activities that our guests can take home, but [also] guests who take the opportunity to share sometimes experience immense healing almost immediately,” she said.
One method of healing Stephanie emphasizes is the practice of yoga, which anyone can do in their home without any equipment which only requires a few minutes of stretching. Another healing practice one can use at home is the spiritual practice of lighting a candle or speaking manifestations aloud. A take away from Stephanie’s program is the importance of community, simply having a conversation with someone who is willing and able to listen. Telling a story, a true story or fiction is an act of expression that can have healing abilities according to Stephanie’s experience.
With all that The Melanin Project creates, it’s important to realize the most important aspect of it all: Access. By creating this space Stephanie affords women of the diaspora access to healing, to safe space and ability to spark therapeutic dialogue. Stephanie’s biggest challenge, however, when creating access to these safe spaces, ultimately, is defending them. She recounts the many times she’s had to justify a safe space created solely for Black and Brown women.
“Very often they can understand the importance and necessity of such a space but then wonder how they can also participate…For me the answer is simple; they can continue to support this concept, but that support must come from outside the space.”
Stephanie’s message promotes the need to look inward as a community, to create for ourselves. When asked what are the essential steps we must take as a community to address mental health going forward, she expresses the importance for making room for our women to simply be. “Our very first step is unlearning the ideology that Black and Brown women are not as affected by pain, both emotional and physical. The women of our community are human and like any other women, and are deserving of respect, gentleness, and to have their experiences and concerns validated. To do this, we must initiate healing conversations with our parents, our lovers, and our friends,” Stephanie says, as a means of normalizing these practices of compassion.
Hats, caps and wigs off. The Melanin Project is paving the way for Black and Brown mental and maternal health as the move towards reclaiming our mind and bodies continues on. But Stephanie Pierre doesn’t need recognition or praise for the manacle breaking work she is perusing. When servicing the long ignored mental health of women of the diaspora, the founder of The Melanin Project finds reward in the work, understanding the gravity of a work that must be done. “I know that what I’m embarking on is the creation of [a] safe space to break generational curses for the entire diaspora and although that’s no easy task, it’s incredibly fulfilling.”
Born and raised in Brooklyn, Diamond Marie Gonzalez St. Baptiste is a writer and poet inspired by the Negritude movement of art and scholarship, who uses the themes of identity, the meaning of Blackness and folklore as a base for her work. As the community Programs and Outreach Associate for MoCADA, her work is informed by a culture rooted in ritual acts and performance. Diamond is also working towards a PhD in the humanities while undertaking personal research on the cosmology within literature of the diaspora, with a focus on Afro-Brazilian poetry.
Women of color seeking a safe space to acknowledge a loss or to care for your mental health:
To participate, interested women must email for a private invite link which will reveal the event address; The location is kept secret for the protection of all attendees. Follow The Melanin Project (@themelaninproject)
Neal-Barnett, Angela, et al. “To Be Female, Anxious and Black.” Anxiety and Depression Association of America, ADAA, adaa.org/learn-from-us/from-the-experts/blog-posts/consumer/be-female-anxious-and-black.
Roder, Amy “America Is Failing Its Black Mothers.” Harvard Public Health Magazine, 21 Dec. 2018, www.hsph.harvard.edu/magazine/magazine_article/america-is-failing-its-black-mothers/.
Winter, Meaghan. “A Matter Of Life & Death: Why Are Black Women In The U.S. More Likely To Die During Or After Childbirth?” Google, Google, www.google.com/amp/s/www.essence.com/amp/news/black-women-mortality-rate-child-deaths-united-states/.