“I wanted women who had to face odds and go through them”
Interview with Founder of the Brave Sis Project, Rozella Kennedy
One thing you should know about Rozella Kennedy is that she’s always been this way. Growing up in New York City in the 70s and 80s — one of the world’s most diverse places at the time — she always imagined for herself other possibilities outside of those typical for Black women of her generation. Along her “outside of the box” journey, gatekeepers threatened to keep Rozella small. Nevertheless, she persisted: “I’m not gonna be in the box that you prescribe…Are you kidding? That box is not even what I’m about.” Knowing of her tenacity, it becomes a little easier to conceive of how Rozella — while working full time — single handedly brought her product idea to market.
She will not be stopped.
The Brave Sis Project
In Kennedy’s own words, a Brave Sis is:
- A Black Woman using history to better know & love herself — and other Women of Color (WOC).
- A Woman of Color embracing story & intercultural joy.
- A white woman entering a circle of learning, de-centering & celebration.
- Women & Womxn who dare to be brave.
- Us changing ourselves & the world.
To support and encourage Brave Sisses, she designed a 2021 planner/journal full of beautiful illustrations (“I found this amazing young illustrator and we worked together, and she created these beautiful portraits that also turn it into a partial coloring book, so you get to dabble in creativity”). The Brave Sis Journey-Journal also includes stories of lesser known WOC in history like the first Black Woman lawyer in America (could she have even dreamt of a Black women lawyer as a Vice Presidential nominee? Given that back in the 1920s, racism and sexism cut her own career short after just a year or two, Kennedy thinks not.) And if that fact makes you feel some kind of way, she encourages leaning into it: Prompts for reflection throughout the journal allow you to engage in such time-traveling considerations. But there’s also space for joy and uplift in celebrating these incredible foremothers and the legacy that binds us to them.
Rozella was finishing the book when the 2020 pandemic hit, and quickly pivoted to create a free digital journal that you can download from her Brave Sis website “for quick emotional and motivational check-ins, to help…build a daily practice of self-care.” And Brave Sis Project’s social media presence allows for discoveries of even more women, such as one who was once known as America’s oldest known living lesbian, Ruth Charlotte Ellis, or Sylvia Ray Rivera, a Latinx gay and transgender rights activist who famously said: “I’m tired of living with labels. I just want to be who I am.” (Sound familiar?)
With the Brave Sis Journey-Journal, you can “have a moment of deep reflection, learn about history, plan your life, get your act together” and “there’s a box for gratitude on each two week spread and a box for attitude because you better get it out.” Rozella is Black and the Journey-Journal includes profiles of WOC in history, but she’s clear that Brave Sis is for all women. “This welcomes white women as well, because most products that elevate the Black experience and the brown experience either feel like ‘white people stay out’ or ‘you’re never gonna know what this is, so forget it’. And the only way we’re gonna get from where we are to where we need to be is to have people of good faith come in, and so it’s about de-centering. It’s a message and a movement of wellness & intercultural sisterhood!”
I’m stating the obvious, but Rozella is brave. She calls moving her family to the San Francisco Bay Area eight years ago a “survival mechanism”; that she completed the move in the face of fear means she’s courageous. That she followed her intuition and desire and knew she was meant for more, even when beaten down and pigeonholed by a society that believes Black women are worth only 62% as much as white men, means she is tenacious. Kennedy’s experiences reflect that of many WOCs; indeed, the world has not been kind to us, nor is it designed for us. Instead of folding or relenting, conservatively shrinking into the background, Rozella literally believed in the power of her dreams and created Brave Sis: “The Brave Sis Project came to me in a dream; the voices of the Foremothers igniting me with a fire to share their story and help us all find our voices to tell our own.”
“Have you ever experienced looking at a planner or journal online and being thrilled by its promise, only to open it up and find it entirely boring, dull, and generic inside?” she asks. Truthfully, I’ve never been excited by any planner (time is a circle, man). Her experience was similar:
“At the cusp of a new decade, I was finding the “planner” market pretty dispiriting. All the samples on the market were for someone else. Some were cheerfully intended for white moms in the suburbs, and I am an internationally minded, urban empty-nester (or at least the nest was empty at the end of 2019…)
On the other hand, the “Black girl” products were working too hard — or worse, felt like someone had taken the most basic book and stuck some “you go, girls” onto it as a selling tool. Others were terse; were their users even human? The new-agey ones seemed to require course study to even operate. The “success” planners had a disappointing testosterone-drive to them — no thanks. And how about the book I saw at the big box store: so blank and morose and cheap, I got both angry and sad at the same time.”
Like Rozella, and honestly, each of us, the Brave Sis Journey-Journal celebrates its uniqueness:
This “planner without the pressure” is a conjuring and celebration of brave and inspiring Women of Color through history. It’s a place to discover, explore, and expand our shared magnificence. It’s a way to be a little more of your own best friend.
Color and story are interspersed throughout the book, and surprises pop up unexpectedly, to delight and inspire. The size and texture (7x9 inches, a beautiful green-gray linen cover with embossed logo) make it perfect for cozying up with in bed or one the couch, andall 320 pages inside are beautiful 100g offset white paper, wo you can doodle and dream and draw and color to your hearts content.
… Did I say “color”? Yes, it’s a coloring book too, with the Journey-Journal’s special offering: the Brave Sis Birthday Party. Every two weeks, a set of biographical and illustrated portraits of amazing (and many, little-known) Black women and other Women of Color throughout history, delightfully hand-rendered with care and reverence, ready for your personal interaction and embellishment.
There’s something for everyone, from Rozella’s college-aged daughters to her niece, a Federal judge who said she can’t wait to bring the Journey-Journal to her staff meetings. Brave Sis Project even welcomes “dudes who want to really go down the wellness and learning road with the foremothers”. Inclusive this is!
Rozella the Role Model
As we spoke, it occurred to me that Kennedy would have benefitted from knowing that there were other Brave Sisses out there when she was coming up and felt like the only one. Though she’s glad the world has somewhat caught up, she laments having “had to take so many of the hits as one of the first ones to deal with it because it was very painful and very lonely and very derailing and very disconcerting”. I wondered aloud what it might have been like for the women in the Brave Sis Journey-Journal to know that they weren’t alone either. Comforting, I’m sure, yet each and every one — Rozella included — persevered in the face of isolation and loneliness. In this way, working on the Brave Sis Journey-Journal was healing for Rozella. And, like “most things Rozella”, it’s truly right on time: “In this moment, when many have embarked on an accelerated journey in unpacking privilege, and authentically committing to de-centering a “default” Whiteness Narrative, we hope Brave Sis will feel like a helpful resource, for listening, learning, and growing.”
The million dollar question: How did Kennedy manage to bring the Brave Sis Journey-Journal to market, including running a successfully funded Kickstarter campaign, all while working full-time at her dream job? Planning. Rozella meticulously plans her days to accommodate performing well at work and spending two to three hours each weekday on the Brave Sis Project. On weekends, she’s able to fully focus on it, switching back to work mode on Sunday evenings. The other recommendation — and this may be an unpopular opinion — is sequencing. That is, “you can have it all, just not at once.” Her adult children no longer need her to be a “hands-on mom,” so she’s able to fully devote herself to her work AND to the Brave Sis Project. Of course, she uses the Brave Sis Journey-Journal to help manage her work and self-care time. She suggests you do the same.
Lastly, Rozella’s favorite quote is her own; it’s a piece of sage advice: “Keep a “to do list” and a “to don’t list” and pay more attention to the latter.”
To learn more about Rozella Kennedy and the Brave Sis Journey-Journal, visit bravesis.com/.