“It’s a conversation. You’re all here for a reason.” OWN’s ‘Speak Sis’ showrunner and executive producer, Jennifer Ryan, uttered these words to an anxious studio audience of fifty Black women decked in silk, satin and jewel tones. Each audience member was hand picked by producers to share their story of tragedy and triumph on the OWN Spotlight series ‘Speak Sis’ premiering on Tuesday, September 28 at 9:00 p.m. ET/PT.
Mere moments before the showrunner addressed the now silent audience, Black women from across the nation of all ages, experiences and identities laughed and danced together. The much needed dance break followed an early morning discussion of the medical system and its disproportionate negative effects on Black women, proving Ryan’s next statement to be true.
“If it’s one thing Black people do, it’s finding levity in our everyday lives,” Ryan said.
In this special two hour episode, Oprah Winfrey joins award-winning social impact strategist Jotaka Eaddy and Emmy-award winning host Adrienne Bankert in leading an in-depth conversation regarding mental health and trauma impacting the Black community.
The episode features special guests California Surgeon General Dr. Nadine Burke Harris, activist, scholar and educator Dr. Dena Simmons and Emmy Award-nominated actress and comedian Kym Whitley. ‘Speak Sis’ offers resources and key takeaways to start healing from trauma, particularly after a difficult year where the Black community has been disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and the ongoing fight for racial equality.
The guests and audience discuss childhood trauma in the Black community, how it affects mental health and how it manifests in adulthood. This significant conversation will destigmatize mental health issues and offer suggestions of how to do the work to heal both individually and as a community, all through the lens of asking “What happened to you?,” the critical question posed by Oprah’s New York Times best-selling book of the same name co-written with trauma expert, Dr. Bruce Perry.
Jotaka Eaddy joins the program as its newest co-host and is set to co-host a series of conversations focused on health in the Black community in conjunction with OWN’s first-ever health initiative, OWN YOUR HEALTH. The series features intimate conversations about important issues with honest opinions and surprising solutions that put Black women first.
A seasoned strategist, Eaddy has been described as the “Olivia Pope of Silicon Valley” by Forbes Magazine. She is also the founder and convenor of #winwithblackwomen – an intersectional and international network of Black women leaders. The hashtag garnered more than 600 million impressions and the network has been credited with making a significant impact in the nomination and election of Vice President Kamala Harris as the first Black woman Vice President of the United States.
Eaddy spoke with Her Agenda about why ‘Speak Sis’ and OWN YOUR HEALTH are needed now more than ever.
Her Agenda: How did you get involved with OWN?
Jotaka Eaddy: I actually had the distinct honor of working with OWN through the OWN Your Vote initiative. Last year during the pandemic, we led a series of conversations with Black women all across the country on the importance of voting. Now, there’s an equally as important conversation with Black women on mental health and trauma and so many other issues that are impacting us. So, that’s how I got involved with [OWN] and it’s been inspiring to just be in a room with so many amazing beautiful Black women who have powerful stories of resilience, overcoming and taking their pain and turning it into their purpose and power.
Her Agenda: How would you describe the energy of this room of Black women?
Jotaka Eaddy: It’s electric! Literally! All the colors and just the ability to see another human and for that other human to be a Black woman is even more invigorating. The ability to stand near someone while being socially distanced and being safe. There were so many precautions taken for the audience and all the panelists and all of the crew to be safe. Everyone tested negative for COVID-19. But the ability to be in a space with another human being, that human connection is so vitally important to us everyday and particularly coming out of a global pandemic of which we’re still in and also having dealt with the year that we dealt with. All of the trauma, the barrage of images of Black men and women being murdered at the hands of police in our communities and sitting here on the verge of the one-year anniversary of the murder of George Floyd and after witnessing Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor so many more. It’s important to have that connection in the midst of all that we’ve been dealing with.
Her Agenda: Why is it so important for Black women to own the conversation in 2021?
Jotaka Eaddy: I’m very passionate about Black women – our voice, our power, our leadership. We look at this past year, Black women [have led] in significant ways. Black women led this country in the election. Black women are leading this country in this movement for racial justice, equity, and healing. So, it’s important for us to have leadership and to own the conversations. Not only are we impacted by these issues, but we also are those in the communities that are leading on these issues. We’re impacted as individuals. We’re impacted as a community. And as Black women, we do what we always do, we stand in the gap. We take leadership and we go in to fix and to solve those problems that we see but it’s also important for us to take a step back and focus on ourselves and our self care and ask ourselves how is that impacting us. I think that was what was so important about this conversation today. We were talking about what happened to us. I think it’s important for us to do that self reflection because we take on so much as Black women.
Her Agenda: What OWN YOUR HEALTH conversations are you most looking forward to hosting?
Jotaka Eaddy: “ think the conversation that we had today on mental health and trauma because it is such an important issue in this moment and this time. It’s so important for us to destigmatize mental health and trauma. It’s important for us to have these conversations. It’s important for us to confront the trauma that we all have dealt with. Everyone in the world at some point has dealt with some form of trauma. We’ve all collectively dealt with a global pandemic, something that we’ve all gone through and what’s important is how we deal with it because that is an indicator of how we will show up in the world. It is important, as Oprah said, that we take what happened to us and turn it into our power, turn it into our purpose, allow ourselves to be a light so that what happened to us might be a light for someone else’s liberation and freedom from what happened to them.
‘Speak Sis’ is produced by Critical Content for OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network. Jennifer Ryan serves as showrunner and executive producer along with Critical Content executive producers Jenny Daly, Tom Forman, and Jon Beyer. OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network executive producers are Tara Montgomery and Brian Piotrowicz. Watch Jotaka and join the conversation with #OWNSpotlight.
It is important, as Oprah said, that we take what happened to us and turn it into our power, turn it into our purpose, allow ourselves to be a light so that what happened to us might be a light for someone else’s liberation and freedom from what happened to them.
[EDITOR’S NOTE: Image Credits: OWN]