Arts·Photos

What would you say to your younger self? 6 Black Canadian women celebrate their inner child

This portrait series by Jacqueline Ashton explores 2019's Black History Month theme: "Black Canadian Youth."

This portrait series by Jacqueline Ashton explores 2019's Black History Month theme: 'Black Canadian Youth'

Left to right: Keosha Love, Reese Evans, Amika Cooper. (Jacqueline Ashton)

This is a portrait series timed with Black History Month in Canada, the theme of which is "Black Canadian Youth." The series features 6 young black Canadian women with images of themselves as children with an accompanying Q&A on the theme of holding onto your inner child: that magic and uniqueness that gets suppressed as you get older and what you can say to your inner child as you're growing up to protect your spirit and help yourself heal and grow.

Looking through childhood photos can be both nostalgic and emotional. We see the beauty, the scars and the passions we carried that helped us develop into the person we have become. We remember that, from childhood to adulthood, one goes through many journeys — physical, emotional and spiritual.

There are multiple factors that affect one's development, and everyone's journeys are personal. Being a young Black woman means one's journeys are impacted by race, gender and history, which shape our experiences in significant ways.

But as we grow and learn about the world, experience society, take on responsibilities and transition from infants to full-on grown ups, what happens to the hopes and dreams we once had as children? Are they still deep within us? Have they already come to fruition? Or have they changed altogether?

What happens to the traumas we've experienced? Are they still haunting us, and have they altered the way we function? And what of the magic and uniqueness that we carried — is it just suppressed underneath the person we've become?

To connect with one's inner child is to reconnect with a pure energy, to tend to issues we've held on to and to help ourselves continue to grow into balanced human beings. This Black History Month, I spoke to six young, creative Black women looking to celebrate their inner child and reconnect with her — to uncover that magical and distinctive child-self that lies within them.

Temi Shobawale. (Jacqueline Ashton)

Temi Shobowale

Profession: Beauty expert and founder of HERDAY
Contact:temimarie.ca, herday.ca, @temishobowale, @herday.ca

Connecting with your younger self is a process and an ongoing journey. Do you remember what activities or passions you used to love when you were a child?

My earliest memories of my childhood passions seem to always exist around the beautiful concept of community and helping others. I grew up in an Islamic Nigerian household, which, by default, required me to give back to the community by volunteering regularly. For my sixth birthday I begged my mother to enroll me into the Girl Guides association. In a way, the journey has never ended.

If you could meet your child-self face to face today and have a conversation, what dreams would you reconnect with?

We would definitely have a very fruitful conversation. I am not necessarily the world-travelling nurse she dreamt of me being. However, I am sure she would be happy to know that we are still very dedicated to nurturing and helping others through innovative ways.

What advice would you give to your younger self, knowing all that you know now?

Note to my younger self: you will have to face plenty of adversity too early, too often and it will be experienced quite rapidly. You will have to sacrifice your childhood in order to hone your life-survival skills. You will constantly feel hurt and misunderstood. One day, you will begin to listen to your intuition [and] have more trust in yourself. From there, your resilience and ability to love limitlessly will guide you into the aligned path designed to fulfil your purpose.

How does connecting with this inner child make you feel? Does it bring up certain thoughts or ideas, or reawaken any ambitions?

I've spent the last two years connecting with my inner child. I did not realize how much I suppressed the pain and confusion I was exposed to during my early childhood years. My inner child was yearning to be loved and healed. This healing process remains ongoing, because I refuse to silence the little girl in me ever again.

There's a sense of magic and uniqueness in our child-selves that gets somewhat suppressed as we get older. What rituals or passions do you practice now as acts of self care for your health and well-being?

I journalled a lot growing up — it was my only escape growing up as the youngest of seven. As I bloomed into adulthood, I discovered yoga, hypnosis, meditation, reiki...all of which led me to the reintroduction to my ancestral powers, [which were] waiting for me to tap into [them].

Since then, I've been discovering different spiritual ways to heal that work for me. My well-being rituals are actually what led me to creating HERDAY. I realized that there were not enough inclusive events or spaces in the city where I could freely express myself in an intimate setting with other women in a style that I would like to — I was tired of being boxed in as the "angry Black woman" or the strong and mighty "superwoman." So I created one.

Reconnecting with your inner child is a process for analyzing and understanding your roots. Like Black History Month, this experience is a time of reflection, a celebration of how far we've come and an opportunity to to raise awareness of how much more work there is to do. What does Black History Month mean to you?

Black History Month has often felt like a reminder for us to love our community a little extra and celebrate surviving being Black in North America. As I am aware of my Nigerian roots and proudly represent my Africanness while living in Canada 365 days a year, I unapologetically celebrate being a Black woman every single second I get to.

Keesha Chung. (Jacqueline Ashton)

Keesha Chung    

Profession: Event producer, co-founder of CC:MTL (Collective Culture Montreal)            
Contact:collectiveculture.ca, @keeshachung

Connecting with your younger self is a process and an ongoing journey. Do you remember what activities or passions you used to love when you were a child?

Since I was a child, I have always loved creating and using my imagination. I loved to draw, write stories, take pictures, make art. I loved challenging ideas and understanding the hows and whys of the world. In school, I was drawn to assignments and projects that allowed me to be creative, and I excelled at them.

I have made an effort to stay connected to these parts of myself, especially considering the world we live in. Our world is riddled with so many labels and definitive ideas about existence, and, for me, imagination and creativity are key factors to living happily on my own terms.

If you could meet your child-self face to face today and have a conversation, what dreams would you reconnect with?

As a child, I wanted to make the world a better place. I liked making others happy, and I loved connecting with people. My dreams as a child were tied to a desire to bring more goodness to the world. That is something I would discuss with my child-self, because as children, we are given more space to be our most authentic selves. We love, we play, we exist and we express ourselves more organically than we do as adults.

As we grow older, so much of that bliss and that authenticity is taken from us. The world becomes a place of constraints, rather than a platform for expression. I would tell my child-self to cherish that freedom as long as possible and learn as much as I could from our conversation.

What advice would you give to your younger self, knowing all that you know now?

"Never dim your light to make other people feel comfortable." As a child, I didn't like when people were mad at me, and I carried that into adulthood. I care about other people's opinions more than I care to admit, and that has worked to my detriment in many ways. It disconnects me from myself. It disconnects me from the things that make me feel strong, empowered and unique — the things that define the best parts of who I am.

I've learned that connecting to those parts of myself will always threaten other people, especially when they are not connected to those things within themselves. I've learned that when people mistreat you, it has little to do with you and everything to do with how they see themselves. It can be really hard not to take those interactions personally but, at the end of the day, any person who asks you to suppress who you are — directly or indirectly — is not someone you should have in your life. They are not worth your time or your energy.

How does connecting with this inner child make you feel? Does it bring up certain thoughts or ideas, or reawaken any ambitions?

My inner child has been needing to tell me to chill out. I put a lot of pressure on myself. As adults, we have more experiences to help us guide our decisions, but the truth is everyday we are still learning. We are learning to love, we are learning who we are and we are learning about the world.

In order to learn, we need to make mistakes. I put a lot of pressure on myself to make the "right" decisions, and I am not very forgiving when I make mistakes — especially ones I anticipate. In this regard, I need to be kinder to myself, and I think my inner child would agree.

There's a magic and uniqueness in our child-selves that gets somewhat suppressed as we get older. What rituals or passions do you practice now as acts of self care for your health and well-being?

I love my time alone. I grew up as an only child, so I had a lot of time to myself. That time has been really important to the development of my creativity. It allowed me to be in my head, generate ideas and learn about things that interested me. I think that time is crucial to my health and well-being because it has given me the space to be myself and connect with the things that make me, me.

Reconnecting with your inner child is a process for analyzing and understanding your roots. Like Black History Month, this experience is a time of reflection, a celebration of how far we've come and an opportunity to raise awareness of how much more work there is to do. What does Black History Month mean to you?

Black history is history. It's time to rethink categorizing it as somehow separate from history generally. The project of whiteness succeeds by labelling itself as the neutral — meaning the experiences of white people and white culture are set as the standard everything else is measured against, and in relation to.

So in that sense, the idea of Black History Month kind of frustrates me. I understand the importance of it, but if history were discussed more accurately — in a way that de-centres whiteness — and systemic racism weren't so rampant within educational institutions, there wouldn't be a need for Black History Month.

Aside from that, I see Black History Month as an opportunity to celebrate Black culture and Black joy. In the media, representations of Blackness are often synonymous with Black pain, but Black people are so much more than our pain. Black History Month is another opportunity to reconnect with the strength that comes from my Blackness and my identity as a Black cis woman. There is a lot of power in my reality, and it is important to make the time to celebrate that.

Amika Cooper. (Jacqueline Ashton)

Amika Cooper, a.k.a. blackpowerbarbie

Profession: Illustrator and animator
Contact:blackpowerbarbie.com, @blackpowerbarbie

Connecting with your younger self is a process and an ongoing journey. Do you remember what activities or passions you used to love when you were a child?

[From the age of] four to seven, I used to write and illustrate my own picture books. I was an only child with a mom who didn't believe in the concept of being bored, so I spent a lot of time falling in love with storytelling and expressing myself.

If you could meet your child-self face to face today and have a conversation, what dreams would you reconnect with?

I would reconnect with the unwavering confidence I had as a kid. I really thought that I could do anything, and I was relentless. As I grow as an artist and as an adult, I'm constantly trying to get back to believing in the power of dreams and shedding my fear of failure.

What advice would you give to your younger self, knowing all that you know now?

Pay attention to your intuition — you're right. Don't allow other people to project their limitations onto you and cause you to lose sight of what's true. Use your empathy to make yourself a better artist and person, but protect your energy. Most importantly: there's always more learning to do, and you can't rush your lessons.

How does connecting with this inner child make you feel? Does it bring up certain thoughts or ideas, or reawaken any ambitions?

Connecting with my inner child fills me with so much joy and excitement for my future. When I was younger, I would make those picture books because I had ideas that I needed to get out, and I was so eager to create and share. I think my inner child has been meaning to remind me of my capacity for joy and the beauty in sharing that with others.

There's a magic and uniqueness in our child-selves that gets somewhat suppressed as we get older. What rituals or passions do you practice now as acts of self care for your health and well-being?

Every morning, I dance and sing. It wakes me up, but honestly, more than anything, it makes me so happy. Obviously, it doesn't fix everything, and if I'm stressed I might just stay stressed, but pretending to be Teyana Taylor for at least 15 minutes a day really shifts my energy to a good place!

Reconnecting with your inner child is a process for analyzing and understanding your roots. Like Black History Month, this experience is a time of reflection, a celebration of how far we've come and an opportunity to raise awareness of how much more work there is to do. What does Black History Month mean to you?

Black History Month doesn't necessarily mean what it used to mean when I was younger. I've grown to be someone who is very proud of her Black heritage and culture, and manifesting that pride in every aspect of my life is a daily practice that is crucial to my well-being. What I like about Black History Month now is experiencing other people celebrate us.

Keosha Love. (Jacqueline Ashton)

Keosha Love       

Profession: Artist, arts educator and founder of Our Women's Voices           
Contact:@keoshaloveee, @ourwomensvoices

Connecting with your younger self is a process and an ongoing journey. Do you remember what activities or passions you used to love when you were a child?

When I was a child, my passion was always writing! Never left the house without a notebook in my hand, doodling, journalling and being extremely dramatic in my poems. I also loved roller skating and bowling with my friends.

If you could meet your child-self face to face today and have a conversation, what dreams would you reconnect with?

One dream I'd love to reconnect [with] is writing a book. I was a huge bookworm, especially for fiction. I always wanted to write a fiction book that wasn't cliché or predictable — but epic. A book that everyone from all different walks of life would enjoy — the way I enjoyed reading books from Maya Angelou and Rainbow Rowell.

What advice would you give to your younger self, knowing all that you know now?

I would tell my younger self to stop shrinking who I am for the convenience of others.

How does connecting with this inner child make you feel? Does it bring up certain thoughts or ideas, or reawaken any ambitions?

Connecting with my inner child reminds me of how [much] less serious life felt [then] and how much more fun and present I was. I want to practice being more present, saying things out loud and not being afraid to be loud.

There's a magic and uniqueness in our child-selves that gets somewhat suppressed as we get older. What rituals or passions do you practice now as acts of self care for your health and well-being?

I love this question, because it brings me right back to the first one: I continue to write, skate and bowl. I just went skating this weekend, went bowling last week and write really often. I think these things always bring out the best me, always remind me of who I am and make me feel really good, even when I've hit a bump in my life.

Reconnecting with your inner child is a process for analyzing and understanding your roots. Like Black History Month, this experience is a time of reflection, a celebration of how far we've come and an opportunity to to raise awareness of how much more work there is to do. What does Black History Month mean to you?

Black History Month, to me, means standing firm in your identity, loving what that looks like and not compromising who you are because of the systems that exist that try to steal those pieces of who you are from you.

Monique Hinds. (Jacqueline Ashton)

Monique Hinds          

Profession:Under 27 membership manager and DJ programmer at Soho House Toronto            
Contact: @moniqueeugenia

Connecting with your younger self is a process and an ongoing journey. Do you remember what activities or passions you used to love when you were a child?

I poured myself into reading books and writing as a child. I honestly think I had more books than friends! There was something so captivating about travelling into these different inventive worlds and getting lost in plotlines that excited me, and even led me to trying to create my own miniseries and wanting to become a journalist. Though that career [dream] dwindled around the same time I was in Grade 10 English (not coincidental), my love for books remains the same.

If you could meet your child-self face to face today and have a conversation, what dreams would you reconnect with?

Travel, travel, travel. I wanted to travel extensively as a child, and I've knocked a few countries off my list, so I think my younger self and I would have a lot to catch up on.

What advice would you give to your younger self, knowing all that you know now?

I was very career-driven as a child. I wanted to be a journalist, a criminal lawyer, an astronomer, a chef, a famous singer/actress, a high school teacher, a political activist...I was super ambitious as a child, reading Maclean's best university guide regularly from eight years old.  

That's not to say that I'm not ambitious now. But, as you get older, you start overanalyzing everything, weighing the financial consequences and rewards and talking yourself out of it only to chalk it up to being a "realist."  

So the advice I'd tell myself would be to focus on one thing and do it. Doesn't matter how hard you think it'll be to accomplish or how much time you think it'd take because you're more than capable, passionate and intelligent. Also, don't give your mom such a hard time when you're a teen — you'll grow to be inspired by her badass-ness.  

How does connecting with this inner child make you feel? Does it bring up certain thoughts or ideas, or reawaken any ambitions?

My inner child would tell my current self that you're exactly where you need to be. Everything you've set out to do, you've accomplished — and then some. Be proud, pat yourself on the back, and know that if you want it, you will get it.

There's a magic and uniqueness in our child-selves that gets somewhat suppressed as we get older. What rituals or passions do you practice now as acts of self care for your health and well-being?

Yoga, beauty rituals, engaging with art, laughing, cooking, dancing, crying and spending time with loved ones are all part of my self-care. I've enacted a new mantra that applies to all facets of my life from [the] social [to the] spiritual, emotional, and physical: "quality, not quantity." I don't want to live in excess, so it's important to me to know that I've purposely chosen to have the moments, things and people in my life [that I do].

Reconnecting with your inner child is a process for analyzing and understanding your roots. Like Black History Month, this experience is a time of reflection, a celebration of how far we've come and an opportunity to raise awareness of how much more work there is to do. What does Black History Month mean to you?

Pride and celebration.

Reese Evans. (Jacqueline Ashton)

Reese Evans         

Profession: Master success coach, NLP and hypnosis practitioner, and personal development content creator   
Contact:yessupply.co, @yessupply

Connecting with your younger self is a process and an ongoing journey. Do you remember what activities or passions you used to love when you were a child?

When I was a kid, I loved spending time with my mom. It was just me and her, and we were so close. We would go skating [and] go to the roller skating rink, and I was always adventurous, climbing trees and going into the creeks.

When you're a kid, you have so much freedom. You don't judge — you just know you're good enough as you are. It's only as we grow older that we become programmed to judge and compare ourselves [with others].

If you could meet your child-self face to face today and have a conversation, what dreams would you reconnect with?

My love language is gift-giving, and I can remember as a child I was always giving — buying small gifts and giving them to my friends, and trying to make my mom presents and pictures. As a kid, we're so connected and tuned into our spirit. We recognize what we're inherently good at and remember what an abundant world we live in — there is always more than enough.

Growing a business as a creator and personal development teacher, I've seen giving is the most rewarding thing you can do, and we each have gifts that we were born with. When we share those, it leads to ultimate freedom, fulfilling our purpose and meeting with our higher selves.

What advice would you give to your younger self, knowing all that you know now?

It's OK. You don't have to look or be like anyone else to be loved and accepted. You are good enough because you are here — no question about it. When the world seems confusing, look inward — that's where the answers are. Your universe is a reflection of everything you are: you are loving and supportive, and when you place your focus and attention there, you will attract that energy right back to you.

How does connecting with this inner child make you feel? Does it bring up certain thoughts or ideas, or reawaken any ambitions?

Take it easy on yourself. Laugh. Play.

There's a magic and uniqueness in our child-selves that gets somewhat suppressed as we get older. What rituals or passions do you practice now as acts of self care for your health and well-being?

I'm huge on discovering the power of the mind and our own energy that lives within us. I've turned showing people how to use their minds to manifest the life they want into my livelihood because it thrills me to help people transform and unlock things about themselves they forgot were there.

I give myself a lot of time to dream and imagine. We get taught in school not to imagine and, instead, to follow a textbook — to look outside of ourselves for the answers. My favourite practices involve going within: journalling, visualization, getting into the energy of gratitude and imaging my dream life — and then creating it. Taking time to be silent and tune in is essential for my mental well-being in a noisy world. It's finding this inner peace and reflection that allows me to be true to myself in everything I do.

Reconnecting with your inner child is a process for analyzing and understanding your roots. Like Black History Month, this experience is a time of reflection, a celebration of how far we've come and an opportunity to raise awareness of how much more work there is to do. What does Black History Month mean to you?

It wasn't that long ago that people of colour couldn't sit in the same places as others, get paid for their work or have basic civil rights. I'm able to live a life of freedom and choice because of people who fought for me, who I can never personally thank. Black History Month reminds us to stick to our dreams, and that change can happen fast when we have a dream. A single person can inspire change in millions.

It's a reminder to me to be grateful for all the opportunities I have because someone sacrificed for generations...and a reminder to do my part to encourage a world of higher consciousness and inclusion for those who will come after me.

About the Author

Jacqueline Ashton

Jacqueline Ashton is a female artist based in Toronto. She graduated in May 2017 from a new program at Ryerson University called Creative Industries and received her BA with a business specialization. Jacqueline gets up close and personal with each of her collaborators and brings a conscious effort to play with colours, lighting and nature. As a self taught photographer, she focuses on capturing diverse women of colour displaying intimate moments of femininity, confidence and natural beauty.