In a world where Black women are constantly perceived to be resilient and strong, is there space for them to be cared for? To care for themselves? One Elon University student is out to prove that there is, indeed. Self care may continue to be a buzz word both on and offline, but Lumen Scholar, Eukela Little is on a mission to get more Black women to consider selfishness in real life, and in real time. Alongside her mentor Buffie Longmire-Avital, Little is shining a light on how the unrealistic standards of “Black girl magic” and other seemingly positive affirmations, can actually negatively impact the physical and mental health of Black women.
With her research project, “Strong, Black and Selfish: Reframing the Strong Black Woman Persona to include Self-Care through a Mobile Health Intervention,” an eight week activation that encourages Black women to reprioritize themselves. But how did Black women find themselves in this position, and is there hope to be set free from the restraints of “queendom?”
“It starts with an awareness that you were overwhelmed and that you do see yourself as a strong Black woman,” said Buffie Longmire-Avital, associate professor of psychology and Little’s mentor. “But what does that mean and how can you still be a strong Black woman that is selfish, centers self-care and recognizes that you are just human?”
As a part of her research, Little conducted interviews with mental health experts, as well as Black women students, each of which she filmed and attached to a video prompt to be played for her nearly 30 participants. At the beginning of each week, participants are presented with a new concept such as mindful meditation, understanding self care, and others. While Little was sure of the structure she wanted to commit to for her research project, her mentor admittedly needed a minute to catch up.
“There was this moment where I was trying to push Eukela into this typical research box, and she was like, ‘That’s not what I wanted to do. I want to create workshops and immediately help people. I’m not about just writing the research up.’ She wanted to disseminate this information. It wasn’t about generating research for her consumption or a select few,” Longmire-Avital told Today at Elon.
“It woke me up in terms of how I’ve been following a certain pattern and gave me the courage to let that go. Eukela is a wonderful example of when you step back and let a student’s creativity and innovation lead you,” she added. “I’m thankful for her vision and her steadfast conviction to want to be the change, not just document what needs to happen.”
Little and Longmire-Avital have been working together since the student’s first year at the university. Together, they prepared the Lumen Prize application.
“I’ve had two other research mentors before Longmire-Avital, and she was my first Black woman mentor,” Little said. “That within itself created a sense of safety for me to show up as myself during trying times.”
The Lumen Prize grants 15 rising seniors each year with a $20,000 scholarship to support their research project, as well as a mentor that will work closely with the student for their remaining two years.
“We always talk about ‘Black girl magic.’ We’re all trying to be magical Black girls. But it was very interesting to see that conception of the magical Black girl was at a goddess level,” Longmire-Avital said of her mentee’s research. “That was concerning for me because we are human. We have to always be mindful of where the trends are going and how those trends may initially appear to be one thing … but if not careful, they can also be sources of great pressure. Eukela’s research illuminates that.”