Each woman of the Sistah to Sistah! club walks in with her own baggage, her own worries and her own responsibilities. But through each other, they all find companionship and comfort.
“I’m stressed all the time. I’m going to school and work, so right now is a bit tense,” one woman says.
“I’m graduating this fall, so I understand the stress part. There’s a lot on my plate. I’m going to work still, paying bills, trying to find internships and what-not,” another says.
This is how the women introduce themselves to one another – a brief statement on how they are feeling that day.
Two women are new to the group, the other three are regular attendees. The newcomers understandably sound more timid than their counterparts.
But their grievances serve to weave a bond of trust and confidentiality between the newcomers and the regulars. That bond is crucial to the club’s purpose, which is to provide a place where African-American women can be “understood, heard and accepted,” according to the club’s flyer.
The two facilitators, Vanessa Brown and Crea Jackson, know well that getting people to speak up can be difficult. So, they provide weekly discussion topics to help spark conversations after the introductions.
“Our really big topics are when we get really personal about personal life experiences and we just really help each other,” Brown said.
A recent topic, “side chicks” – women who date men in a relationship with someone else, was a bit more lighthearted in nature than most of their conversations.
The conversations are parallel to the member’s relationship with one another. Each word brings more clarity to one another and the topic. The conversation began with outright disapproval of the “side chick.”
“The ‘main chick, side chick’, that whole thing, there’s no one really winning in that situation. Unless everyone is on the same page and knows,” Jackson said.
The group discussed the ways men and women with several lovers are portrayed in media, as well as the issue’s historical roots.
“Even in slavery, it’s like, they’re married but then they are sleeping with the slaves or whoever. Then the wife is like, ‘I got what I want, so you can do what you want,’” said newcomer Skylar Hallman. “It goes way back to where now it’s just accepted, unfortunately.”
The perspectives and opinions progressively became more lively throughout the meeting, with each member of the group becoming more passionate as the conversation sharpened in focus. The group soon acknowledged that it’s more acceptable for men to have a “side chick.” When women have multiple lovers, they’re more likely to face negativity.
The Sistah to Sistah! club considered the concept from a variety of angles, even from the perspectives of the other women.
“We marginalize our way of thinking a lot. Because we try to classify something or call it what it is, when everything could be circumstantial,” said the other newcomer, Kimberly Binion.
By the end of their meeting filled with laughter and shared knowledge, the “newcomer” label that Binion and Hallman walked in with felt like it had never been there to begin with. The women themselves both expressed a feeling of acceptance within the group.
“I enjoyed my first Sistah to Sistah! experience. I can’t believe I’ve missed out all of this time,” Hallman said. “As far as the topic goes, I’m glad you all felt comfortable talking about this.”
Brown said reactions like Hallman’s are what the group strives for. They want their group to expand and provide an emotional refuge for African-American women at Fresno State.
“I talked to an incoming freshman and she hadn’t made any friends yet. If she came to our discussion group, she would have four or five solid people who – ‘Hey, if I want to hang out, I’m not alone anymore,’” Brown said. “That’s what we want to bring, a sense of belonging, a sense of ‘I have someone.’”
The Sistah Sistah club meets every Wednesday at noon in the Harambee Room in the Cross Cultural and Gender Center.