20 Questions with Denise Shanté Brown, whose workshop Design for the Wellbeing of Black Women is part of the North Avenue Knowledge Exchange

Denise Shanté Brown

Denise Shanté Brown’s workshop at the North Avenue Exchange, “Design for the Wellbeing of Black Women” addresses “health concerns in the personal lives and communities of black women in Baltimore…to create a support system and compassionate environment where women feel empowered to communicate their need for support.” We asked the recent Maryland Institute College of Art graduate to talk a little about her work, and what it means for Baltimore by way of 20 questions. Brown’s workshop is at MICA tomorrow, Dec. 9 at 6:45 p.m. Read more about it here.

1. What do you do?

As a holistic design strategist and mental health advocate, I utilize the practice of design to develop meaningful tools and strategies that unapologetically prioritize the wellbeing of Black women. It’s a collaborative process that is always evolving but as the work grows, I’m discovering new ways to facilitate the healing journey with other Black women in culturally relevant ways. It looks like making space for us to be honest about our lived experiences and the impact it has on our health, identifying ways that we need to be supported, and using our collective creativity and imagination to design for our wellbeing. I see problems as design challenges and continue to be wholeheartedly invested in realizing the wellbeing of Black women, creatively and holistically.

2. Why do you do it?

Because Black women matter even though societal systems try to make us believe that we don’t. Because as Black women we continue to be natural caregivers, supporting the wellbeing of everyone else around us—in our families, workplaces, communities—and are worthy of that same care. Because at least 60 percent of Black women are experiencing symptoms of depression but remain one of the most undertreated and under supported groups. It’s a health inequity and a design challenge because oppressive structures that impact our wellbeing and the quality of our healthcare are strategically designed. I do this because I know what it’s like to feel weighed down, depressed and anxious, needing a way to self-actualize. I do this for love. For recovery. For justice.

3. What Baltimore stereotype annoys you the most?

That Baltimore is a boring city and there’s nothing to do here. Maybe this is me being an introvert but when I do leave the house or pause from the studio workflow, I can always find something to do and somewhere to go. It may be visiting a nature site or garden (yes, Baltimore has a lot of nature spots throughout the city) bookstore, or one of many arts and community-based events that I’m into. The options are endless, really.

4. Favorite Baltimorean?

Jess Solomon. I met Jess last year when beginning my master’s thesis work around Black women and mental health. She welcomed me to Baltimore, as one of my first connections, with so much love and support. We’d meet at Dovecote Cafe to talk about real factors Black women are facing and navigating every single day. Dreaming and visioning about what healing could look like for us. Her energy and creativity continue to inspire me. She’s definitely one of the reasons why I’m still in Baltimore.

5. Favorite restaurant/eatery?

On Tuesdays, you’ll usually find me at Tapas Teatro for their $10 Sangria pitcher nights enjoying my favorite food selections, like the lamb meatballs and papas bravas which are divine. I love meeting my girlfriends there to catch up and reconnect.

6. Last thing you bought?

A 90-minute reiki energy healing session with Ana Rodney. It was a new health experience for me outside from my bi-weekly therapy appointments and occasional massage treatments but a worthy investment. We hold so much in our bodies. Clearing toxicity and negative energy to make room for healing are so necessary.

7. Last thing you read?

I’m currently reading two books because I can never read just one: “Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds” by Adrienne Maree Brown; and “Transforming Depression: Healing the Soul Through Creativity” by David H. Rosen, M.D.

8. Last Facebook post or tweet?

A weekly horoscope share and mantra by the astrologer, Naimonu James:

“i am blessed and highly favored.

every particle in the universe vibrates towards my joy.

it is going to be okay.

i am going to be just fine.

this i believe,

and this i repeat.”

9. What do you believe in?

Compassion. Self-leadership. Human and spiritual connection. Intuition. I believe in the power of collective wisdom and creativity and that we have the capacity to live and love with meaning.

10. What do you wish you’d known when you were younger?

That everything that I was planning for me and my future life would not go exactly how I imagined but I’d still be able to find pockets of joy along the way. So, try not to worry so much and take care of you.

11. "The Wire"—Yea or Nay?

Yea. But I don’t really want to talk about it. I’m still upset over Omar’s death.

12. What are you tired of?

I’m tired of personally experiencing and witnessing other women being harmed by toxic masculinity, psychological terrorism, and gaslighting. We are being made to feel like we can’t trust our memory or intuition sensing untruths and often find ourselves in intimate relationships where we are straight up disrespected, emotionally abused, and lied to. Heartbreak is also a traumatic experience and I touch on that in my work as well because I’m tired of seeing the hearts of women broken and in pain.

13. What are you grateful for?

The unwavering connections and strong, unbreakable threads of friendships that I have. I’m grateful for knowing that I’m not alone because I have people in my life who show up and remind me that love and intimacy transcend romantic relationships.

14. Favorite quote?

“A woman in harmony with her spirit is like a river flowing. She goes where she will without pretense and arrives at her destination prepared to be herself and only herself.”-Maya Angelou

15. Best gift you ever received?

My father’s poetry book from his prison cell after he passed away from a brain aneurysm when I was 16 years old. It was just a small selection of the number of poems I know that he wrote but having his poetic reflections and art with me in my home is an invaluable gift in and of itself.

16. Favorite local nightspot?

If I want to dance (and I really love to dance) hear some good karaoke or live music — The Crown all the way. It’s always a memorable night at The Crown.

17. If your life were a book, what would the title be?

I asked one of my best friends, Lana, to answer this for me. Her response: “Shanti Ase. Shanti in Sanskrit means peace. Ase is a Yoruba word that means the power to make things happen. In your life, you’ve strived to create peace within yourself, people, events, and spaces. You’ve utilized your creativity and passion to bring incredible things to life.”

18. What do you want the most?

To embody the depth and breadth of my true self, in whatever form that needs to manifest and to know freedom in the process.

19. What do you look for in a significant other?

That’s a question that I’m currently reevaluating as I move through my own healing process from heartbreak. I still believe in true love though and one of the definitions of love that I hold close is by M. Scott Peck: “the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth.”

20. Why Baltimore?

Why not Baltimore? I’m still getting to know the people and rhythm of the city but the more conversations that I have, neighborhoods that I spend time in and relationships that I build, the more Baltimore feels like home. With the history and all that it carries, all of the radical work so many people are doing here, I choose to stay.

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