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Voices: RIP Karyn Washington, Founder of For Brown Girls (1992-2014)

By Arturo R. García

For Brown Girls founder Karyn Washington.

The online social justice community suffered a sobering loss with the death of Karyn Washington, who created For Brown Girls and the #DarkSkinRedLip Project, Clutch Magazine reported late last week.

Adding to the shock was that Washington, whose work helped uplift her fans and readers and raise necessary conversations about the unfair beauty standards pushed on communities of color, reportedly took her own life at just 22 years of age, after struggling with depression following her mother’s death last year. Her passing has not only inspired conversation about her work, but about the struggle facing many of our communities and mental health.

FBG was created to celebrate the beauty of dark skin while combatting colorism and promoting self love! FBG was created to celebrate darker shades of brown- to encourage those struggling with accepting having a darker skin complexion to love and embrace the skin they are in. However, women of all shades may take away from FBG the universal and essential message of self love and acceptance.
For Brown Girls Mission Statement

The inspiring young lady helped to empower young women through her work in celebrating the beauty of African-American women, particularly those of dark-complexion.

One example of Washington’s great influence was her #DarkSkinRedLip project, which she launched after rapper ASAP Rocky openly criticized women with darker skin for wearing red lipstick. With this project, Washington allowed all shades of women to band together in knocking down barriers in beauty by encouraging them to embrace their beauty and claim confidence in wearing any lipstick they please.

– Lilly Workneh, The Grio

I remember I’d cover my mouth when i laughed. I had just gotten braces and I wasn’t quite comfortable yet. I was the epitome of an awkward little black girl. You told me I could be your brace face buddy. I think that was the first time if ever heard the term “brace face” !!! Lol & it certainly wasn’t the last either. We’d talk a lot about school and other silly stuff that probably didn’t matter much, but you gave me so much comfort. Now that I think about it, that amazes me. We were only in middle school and there you were inspiring me and teaching me to love my brown self in the most subtle ways. It is no surprise that you would go on to do such amazing things. May “For Brown Girls” (FBG) continue to thrive. That will forever be your brand, your movement, and your legacy! You’re amazing and even at such the young and tender age of 22 you’ve touched the lives of many all over the world. You inspire me and so many other people so much more than you could’ve ever imagined. I wish you could’ve seen the true magnitude of that.

When I look at you I see a reflection of myself and most certainly that is why this hurts so badly. From now on I’ll forever remember your big beautiful smile, your charm, ambition, professionalism, entrepreneurship, confidence, humility, your drive, and your beautiful Brown Skin. That is what I’ll choose to remember… because to be honest, I’m a bit angry with you. Indeed I’m being selfish, but my heart is devastated- yet, because I know a tad bit about what you were going through I can understand. I’m guilt tripping because I wish I could’ve been there for you a little bit more. I’m so sorry, but I can’t help but to think that with just a little bit more time or a little less distance, proximity would’ve allowed me to make, maybe the slightest difference … Forgive me!

Lia Lia

We’ve spoken about the struggle of dealing with depression and mental illness on this site, and the propensity for many people of color to pass on seeking help and counseling because of worry of public opinion and shame. With losses like these, it’s even more important to spread the word about the realities of these internal battles. Washington was a woman who made a difference and her push to remind us as sistas of our beauty was major. Continue to support it and to spread love, as Washington so loved to do.

– Victoria Uwumarogie, Madame Noire

Washington, who dedicated herself to the uplifting of dark-skinned black girls and women, and worked so that they would have a sense of well-being, was struggling with depression and mental illness, and was unable to extend the love she gave to others to herself.

This is often par for the course with black women, who often shoulder so much burden (one of the only things the community will give us kudos for, the quintessential ‘struggle’) and to admit any weakness of the mind and body is to be considered defective. Vulnerability is not allowed. Tears are discouraged. Victims are incessantly blamed. We are hard on our women, and suffer as a result.

When your community tells you that you’re better off praying than seeking the advice of medical professionals and medication, you feel shame when you feel your mind is breaking. There is no safe place. To admit to any mental frialty is to invite scorn and mockery, accusations of “acting white.”

– Christelyn Karazin, Beyond Black & White

I identify with Washington’s encouragement for those struggling with acceptance in having a darker complexion to love and embrace the skin they are in. In Karyn’s unexpected transition, there’s a lesson to be learned. We all, regardless of the shade of our skin, are seeking a loving and supportive system in a community still struggling to accept a variety of skin-tones. Colorism is promoted by media outlets force feeding images of one-dimensional beauty for men and women. People everywhere can continue fostering and laying the bricks For Brown Girls struggling to find self-love and acceptance in their skin by uplifting and supporting one another through projects such as Washington’s.

– M L Ward, Uptown Magazine

There are people who speculate and assume that she was in this place because she wasn’t comfortable with her skin complexion or she had self-esteem issues. That really is 100 percent false. Karyn loved who she was, and she loved her beauty, and she knew she was beautiful. She really overcame the whole colorism issue very early on in her development as a young woman. She was very confident in her skin, and I never heard her say anything negative about her dark skin, or her brown skin. That is just something, I don’t think, that was an issue at all.

– Video by Yumnah Najah, via Women’s Elevation Magazine

When I heard the news this morning, that’s the first thing I thought. I should have shared my thoughts about living without my mother. And how I didn’t want to. I wanted to join her in heaven. It has too be easier up top.

But I was/am too ashamed to admit it. I can hardly believe that I am even typing it and sharing it with you. But fuck it, I’ve thought about it. Does that make me crazy?! NOPE!

I’ve learned in this past year that it doesn’t. It’s what makes me human. I blame social media a bit. We all try to illustrate these perfect lives. Who really shares the bad days? And more importantly, who doesn’t judge someone when they do?

I checked on her one last time in January 2014. I left my number again, just in case she needed to hear my voice. But Karyn never called.

As I continued to fight off my own depression with cocktails, tears and hugs from my boyfriend Karyn still lived inside of me. Karyn isn’t alone. All too often we look down on Karyn. She’s that unstable creature (insert B word) who hasn’t learned to deal with life’s obstacles. She hasn’t learned how to become this beacon of strength that represents all Black women.

– Ty Alexander, Gorgeous In Grey

I really appreciate those who follow the blog and support FBG. It warms my heart see to young ladies excited about the project and to hear that it makes them feel special. I created this spotlight because the blog is for them and I wanted to feature them on it! I ask the girls to fill out a short questionnaire so I and others can get to know them. In the feature, the girls also share their favorite quote, what they love about themselves and what inspires them. They send that along with their picture to the FBG email. I then format it all in a post and feature the ladies throughout the week on the blog. I also wanted to do something a little different than other blogs which also focus on darker skinned beauty. Instead of just pictures, I want to make sure my blog has substance.

– Karyn Washington, Interview with Madame Noire, March 2012

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)