Women's workshop recalls painful pasts

September 12, 1994|By Elaine Tassy | Elaine Tassy,Sun Staff Writer

Traysi Lenee, a 26-year-old actress from Washington, had a roomful of black women in tears this weekend at Martin's West.

Born to a 16-year-old mother, she grew up doubting that her family, and the rest of the world, really wanted her. Sometimes she thought she was ugly.

To compensate for feeling unwanted and unattractive, she became extremely friendly. She became involved in empty relationships, had more abortions than she could count. Four times, she slit her wrists.

The women who heard her, all of them gathered for a two-day workshop called "Tapping the Power Within," supported her with cheers and cried when her words mirrored their own pain. When she finished, she received a 40-women group-hug.

"I'm healed," she said after the workshop. "I'm fine now. I feel much lighter."

The workshop, sponsored by Iyanla Vanzant, gave the women a chance to forgive themselves, to get their lives in order, and to anchor themselves spiritually. About 130 women attended the workshop, which began Friday evening and ended Saturday.

Ms. Lenee said being around a group of supportive black women helped her make it through the exhaustive experience of telling her story.

"I didn't feel like I had to pretend I was anybody but who I was," she said.

The women, came from the Baltimore-Washington area and from as far away as New Jersey and Wisconsin. Most were in their 20s and 30s.

This workshop was the first held in Baltimore, and the first sponsored by Ms. Vanzant, a 42-year old author, lecturer, doctoral candidate, former lawyer, mother of three and grandmother of four.

While waiting in line after the workshop to have Ms. Vanzant sign a copy of one of her two books, Kim West, a 31-year-old pediatrician from Columbia, said, "I feel reconnected. I feel whole, and I feel at peace, and that's not the way I was feeling when I walked in here."

That's not the way Ms. Vanzant was feeling either in her younger years. She said her mother died when she was 2, and that she was raped by an uncle when she was young.

"That creates cracks in your foundation, the cracks that we bring into our adult life and act them out and often don't realize why," she said.

In her workshops, Ms. Vanzant teaches that people can learn and grow from bad experiences.

"Every lesson is a blessing, no matter how horrible it is," she said. "If we hold onto the pain, that's what we have -- pain, dissatisfaction, lack of clarity, poor self-image that keeps us where we don't want to be."

She learned to forgive her uncle by realizing that he attacked her body, not her, she said.

"As women, we are taught that our body is everything. It's just an envelope that holds who we really are."

After she forgave him, she said, she was able to stop hating men, and to forgive herself for her own promiscuity, overeating, and self-flagellation, all responses to her pain. She said she still sometimes hurts and becomes afraid.

"But now I am conscious of it. So, when I go and buy my pint of coffee Haagen-Dazs and curl up in my bed, I say, 'OK, girlfriend, what's happening now? What are you feeling?' I eat it, I enjoy it, and I give myself therapy," she said.

Nalongo Sayyed said she gave herself a type of therapy too, simply by being at the workshop.

"We got to see that no matter where we think we're different, we're all from one source," said the radio talk show host who lives in Baltimore. "It was a place for Muslim and Christian and Hebrew sisters, with permed hair and nappy hair, to be together and patient and loving."

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