The story of Blackness in America is joyous and fiercely beautiful, but it is also stitched with an unending and unjust difficulty. The forces of racism and systemic oppression mean a constant fight for our rights, our equality and our lives.
Surviving is hard to do alone. I’ve learned that you need community. And as a writer, I’ve learned that words are one of the most sacred gifts that can be shared within a community. My job at Hallmark is all about writing those perfect words, words that heal and hold relationships together. But there are not many cards that address the difficulty of race, cards that speak directly to the truth of Black experiences.
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Uplifted & Empowered was born in the summer of 2020 after the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery. The movement for Black lives took the form of peaceful protests, grassroots organizing and calls for lasting systemic change. This activism inspired many in the Hallmark creative community to consider how we could make a difference. And the Mahogany team began the work of bringing these ideas to life.
We talked about what a collection of cards centered on racial empowerment could offer Black communities that other cards couldn’t or hadn’t. We considered what perspectives, messages and visual depictions were important for Black people to see and have right now.
Editorial Director Dierdra (“Dee”) Zollar leads the Mahogany team in ensuring every message on every card rings true, feels relevant and reflects Black culture in all of its multifaceted realness and richness.
She recalls the collaborations that influenced the development of the collection:
“Each and every one of these cards has a very specific purpose. We spent hours in discussions with our creative partners, members of the Hallmark African-American Leadership Council (HAAL), as well as having conversations with family and friends and watching news stories to make sure we would offer the most compelling, relevant and authentic messages.”
Dee says many of the cards’ themes and images were directly inspired by current events:
“One was the death of Congressman John Lewis, who had been such a courageous and highly-respected beacon of light in the Civil Rights movement and on the current political stage. His memorable participation in and subsequent vicious beating on the Edmund Pettis Bridge in Selma, Alabama, is such a powerful iconic symbol of his unwavering commitment to civil rights and building bridges across race, religion, culture and political parties.
“An inspirational card with a bridge on the cover pays homage to this icon and honors Black people’s marches then and now in our fight for equality.”
For Dee, Uplifted & Empowered was one of the most defining and fulfilling projects she’s worked on. “I am very proud of the collection and I can honestly say I’m even prouder of the personal commitment and sacrifice, collaboration and sense of community that was created to produce it.”
All of the cards in Uplifted & Empowered were written by Black writers. For each of us, the writing process was a personal one, as we drew from our own perspectives and lived experiences.
“It’s okay to say, ‘We are not okay.’”
Written by Courtney Taylor
I wrote this card with my sorority sisters, my mother and all of the Black women I love in mind. I thought about the words of affirmation we shared with each other after the death of Breonna Taylor.
To heal from injustices like this, we often encourage ourselves with hopeful mantras—“We shall overcome” comes to mind. But sometimes the focus we put on being strong feels like an expectation to hold our heads high and keep it together even if we’re falling apart.
When do we give ourselves the space to scream, to cry, to feel the hurt, to step back and reflect? When do we talk about how hard it is to overcome a hardship that keeps happening…every time we turn on the news, every time we step outside?
What I love about being in community with other Black women is that we leave room for our grief to speak, we keep it real and uncensored and we know overcoming isn’t linear. Some days it looks like a head held high and other times it looks like staying in bed and turning the news off.
I hope this card reaches people who need to lean into their feelings and who need to be reminded that their emotions are valid. I hope it serves as a reminder that embracing difficult emotions is how we do the work of overcoming.
“Perseverance is in our DNA”
Written by Mercedes Lucero and Elle McKinney
Mercedes considered the guidance of elders as she wrote this card about our shared cultural history and future:
“Earlier this summer, amid the social unrest, my Black arts collective invited Black elders in the community to speak on a panel.
“Part of the task of imagining the possibility of Black futures—even when it feels insurmountable—is learning from those who have already been doing the work. There’s enormous comfort when you bear witness to all those who have paved the way for future generations to continue moving forward. I brought this with me to the page, too.
“This was unlike any writing project I have been assigned to. You don’t leave your identity at the door when you sit down to write.
“As a Black writer and poet, I wrote words I needed to hear. I wrote the words I needed my friends, who were as heartbroken and angry as I was, to hear. I brought my whole self to the page and while there was grief wrapped up in those words, there was also relief and hope.”
Written by Melvina Young
As Melvina wrote this card, she had the resilient power of Black women on her mind and heart:
“I was thinking about our generations-long yearning for our own safety as Black women. And I tried to imagine a space where that could happen. And I ended up writing a piece about the space where that does happen: The Sisterhood.
“When I wrote this particular card, I was thinking of all the sisters who through their everyday love, persistence, protection, bravery, boldness of voice and vision are always moving us toward freedom.
We, Black women, are that place we can come to restore.”
“Black, Strong, Proud, Loud”
Illustrated by Teju Abiola
Teju Abiola is a Black illustrator who created powerful visual art for Uplifted & Empowered. When creating this card, she was inspired by the symbolic strength of Black hair:
“Our hair is so important to our identity as Black people, and I didn’t know what my natural hair was like until I big-chopped in high school. So seeing hair textures that reflect mine is meaningful.
“The fact that the face on the card is unapologetically Black in color and in feature is so important to me as well. Being able to have that figure stand in for us and be loud, proud, strong and very Black is important.
“This card was both a familiar subject matter but also a new challenge. I took the reference and descriptions that were given to me by the leaders on the project, but also did research to find reference for what was needed.
“The process wasn’t that different than other projects, but because it was something so necessary, specific and new, there was a lot of feedback and discussion to get it right. I usually combine traditional and digital media for what I hope is a seamless and nice look.”
Perhaps the most fulfilling part of creating the Uplifted & Empowered collection is this moment right now: the moment when our cards enter the world, when they sit on shelves across the nation, the moment when we each send them to the people in our lives who inspired our work.
“These cards are for me and my family. For my friends,” says Teju.
Melvina, too, says the messages in this collection affirm the lives of her family members. “I have a little brother who is a 6-foot-2-inch-tall teddy bear, and I’m constantly aware that some people see him as somebody or something to fear or even hurt. I have a daughter of incredible gifts that some won’t see or bother to believe. I have a mother whose love, deep wisdom and unmistakable beauty will not be evident to some people just because of the hue of her skin.
“This collection gave me an opportunity to say, ‘I love you. I see the soul-deep beauty of you. I stand for you.’”
For Dee, creating Uplifted & Empowered with loved ones in mind involved a unique balancing act. “I was planning these cards for myself, my family whose very lives I strive to both respect and protect, and people I care deeply about in my community. At the same time, I was trying to navigate the powerful and painful emotions we were all experiencing in response to the events that inspired this collection in the first place.
“This was life becoming art and art becoming life, and I believe this is what makes it such compelling, powerful and authentic work. I have someone in my life to whom I can give each card that was created—that’s exciting and deeply satisfying to me.”
Mahogany has always been a brand that celebrates Black identity through messages of pride, faith, community and love. Uplifted & Empowered amplifies those themes with an emphasis on our humanity.
As more attention is being given to the systemic issues of anti-Blackness both here and across the globe, Uplifted & Empowered has an essential duty: to remind us that we are powerful, that we are cared for and that we are worthy of life.
“In this current moment of racial injustice, this collection is an assertion of presence,” says Mercedes. “We are here, using our voices and creativity to amplify the Black experience, to offer words when they are hard to find, to give people a moment of comfort and a chance to breathe.”
“It does what the name says it does,” says Dee. “It is lifting us up and empowering us to remember who we are as a community so we can claim, unequivocally, that Black lives matter.”
Hear directly from the writers and artists of Uplifted & Empowered in this behind the scenes video.
Follow Mahogany on Facebook and Instagram to see more of the Uplifted & Empowered collection this month. You can purchase all eleven cards on Hallmark.com. Tell us which cards you’re loving and who you’re giving them to. And as always, stay uplifted and empowered.