When Keosha Love was growing up, she felt like people didn’t listen to her.
“That’s not really because I’m a woman, but it’s because I’m a black woman,” she said. “People were ignoring me and my experience didn’t matter.”
These experiences are what led Love, a fourth-year psychology student, to found Our Women’s Voices (OWV) in the fall of 2016. OWV provides a platform for women to come together to express themselves freely and without judgment. The group, composed of five young women, is guided by a form of feminism that’s both refreshing and accessible.
“I grew up in a very black family with all women who don’t speak about their problems,” Love said. “Understanding that environment where I was raised, I wanted to change the narrative of not being able to speak on things and provide a space where women could share their stories.”
The group is rooted in open and supportive communication. Its first event, an open mic night, was hosted by the Centre for Women and Trans People in December 2016. Since then, the group has run many successful initiatives, diversifying by offering painting workshops and artistic performances.
Love said that there aren’t a lot of groups like this for women in Toronto. OWV fills a gap for women who are raised to compete with each other and emphasizes, above all, humanity. In response, the group has gathered a devoted fandom who react with “overwhelming positivity,” she said.
“It’s not that I didn’t expect it, it’s that I didn’t think people were watching,” she said.
OWV is equal parts softness and ferocity. It also seeks to disrupt the patriarchal system that encourages women to stay quiet. They want to help women tackle issues like women’s oppression and racism and foster a supportive network of women helping women succeed.
“I never had that space to openly talk and resonate and be like, ‘wow, I relate to this other woman who doesn’t look like me, but shit, she feels what I feel,” she said.
The group operates largely through social media. OWV’s Instagram feed is a colourful array of warm pinks and bright blues, punctuated by empowering quotes and heartwarming photographs of different women. It has over 2,500 followers, and a cursory scroll through the group’s profile will show you that it has been undeniably focused on creativity. This may have something to do with their founder’s artistic dexterity.
“For me, art is my escape,” Love said.
She said her biggest goal is hosting events that are accessible for all kinds of women. She said she wants to focus on helping women receive the compensation they deserve for their emotional and artistic labour. This is what her newest project, a platform called Black Women With Wings, aims to do. Black Women With Wings held an art show last Sunday that featured all of Love’s artistic work, from poetry to photography to film. The event was Love’s debut as a creative director.
For much of Love’s life, she said, poetry has helped her navigate racism and other experiences she didn’t quite know how to identify.
OWV is an outlet for women to share their stories without feeling uncomfortable. She explained that the key is supporting artistic expression through different mediums.
“Not all women can stand at a mic and explicitly say, ‘I was raped. I was abused,’” she said.
Love said that being a Ryerson student has helped her connect with other students who share her views. She said many students have reached out to her and offered their support.
One of them is Aimee Bridgemohan, 21, a fourth-year child and youth care student and makeup artist. She joined OWV about two years ago as a blog writer, but has since focused on event planning for the group.
Bridgemohan knew Love from their first-year orientation and was familiar with the group’s Instagram page. Eventually, she reached out to ask if she could help.
Bridgemohan said she feels at home with OWV because of her passion for women’s issues. Once she joined the team, she said, everything fell together and she felt like she belonged.
Joining OWV has provided Bridgemohan with an opportunity to explore her own creativity. She said her first real makeup gig came from a friend she made at OWV.
“Everyone is always encouraging me to pursue what I love and my artistry,” she said. Bridgemohan also helped Love with makeup for Black Women With Wings.
It’s important for groups like OWV to exist, Bridgemohan said, because they provide women with a space to be themselves without judgment. She echoed Love’s sentiments that women are stigmatized as being “catty and aggressive” towards each other, and said OWV aims to fix that.
“We have to unite and empower each other and I think (OWV) does a really great job at providing a platform for that,” she said. “It’s just a really encouraging, positive space.”
For Bridgemohan, OWV’s increasing popularity is a sign that not all women have access to a safe space where they can decompress. She also said it’s important for women to have opportunities to network and showcase their work away from an overly “critical lens.”
For her, the greatest thing about watching OWV prosper has been seeing the growing support and encouragement that women give each other.
“It’s just going to continue to grow,” Bridgemohan said.
Next, Love wants to see OWV acquire a physical space where women can drop-in to chat, read books written by women, and look at art created by other women. She also wants to host smaller, more refined workshops for groups of no more than 30 or so people. The group’s next event will be one of these smaller workshops and will look at the issue of sexual assault and unpacking trauma.