SHIAVON’S JAWN: I was raised by a village that didn’t talk about feelings


Courtesy of Shiavon Chatman

Shiavon with her grandma circa 1996.

A jawn. Pronounced jôn. Noun. A person, place, thing, or event that doesn’t need a specific name. An indescribable, but memorable entity.

I’m Shiavon and this is Shiavon’s Jawn. (If these two words don’t rhyme, then you’re saying my name wrong.)

I was born on a Sunday morning in 1995 in Albany, New York (a Gemini rising goddess). 

My dad and I lived on Southern Boulevard. He worked full-time, so often my Nana’s best friend Vanessa would take two buses from Troy, New York, to our doorstep, take the handles of my stroller, and together, we would take two buses back to my Nana.

Courtesy of Shiavon Chatman
Shiavon and her Aunt Nessa.

I was raised by a loving village. 

They lived in the Taylor Projects right next to the Hudson River. That place might as well have been a mansion. 

I would run up and down the halls. I’d hide in the elevators. I’d knock on the doors and ask for candy my Nana made me throw away after. 

That whole place was my playground. I loved it there. But mostly because it was home to a queen.

I could talk about my Nana for hours. She was ethereal. Her smile lit up my world. Her raspy but calming voice was music to my little ears. But her death has stuck with me like a habit I can’t shake. 

I didn’t start going to therapy for my anxiety until I was 21 years old. The guy I’d been dating for a couple months was diagnosed with cancer. 

It’s happening again. He’s gonna die. 

I was falling in love and it was new and happy and pure. And now I had to push him away because I couldn’t watch someone die again. 

Is that selfish? I didn’t care. 

His hair was falling out. He was down to about 120 lbs. His eyelashes were gone. It was getting realer and realer. 

I spent some nights at the hospital. It was cold, dark and smelled like rubber.

When we got to the beginning of the end, we aired out our grievances from a time when we were too in love to mind. He told me I didn’t come around enough.

Courtesy of Shiavon Chatman
Shiavon and her grandmother.

That hurt, but he was right. I couldn’t tell him I was mourning the death of a woman who had been gone for 12 years. 

I was raised by a village that didn’t know how to handle loss.

Every time I saw him, I was prepared for it to be my last. I appreciated the preparedness because I was never granted it with my Nana.

He didn’t die by the way. I hope he’s happy wherever he is. 

My therapist asked me why I felt the need to come to her. She said I seemed “normal.”

This is why Black people don’t believe in therapy. She invalidated my feelings. She belittled me.

I’m a lot of things, but normal isn’t one of them.

My body shakes when I think of my Nana or when I feel overwhelmed. God, I miss her. 

My body shakes when I’m excited. My body shakes when I’m angry. 

I suppress my feelings for two reasons: nobody cares and I don’t want to be vulnerable enough to let someone in. 

So me asking for help wasn’t easy. Mental health isn’t taken serious in the Black community because we normalize trauma.

Courtesy of Shiavon Chatman
Shiavon and her father at her first birthday party.

I was raised by a village that didn’t talk about its feelings. 

If there is anyone who experiences PTSD or moments of crippling anxiety it’s Black folks. 

When my dad first told me Nana died, his eyes were bloodshot. 

He’d been crying. How dare she make him cry. 

I was angry, but at her. She smoked cigarettes. She survived lung cancer and an abusive ex-husband but died from a blood clot in her mid-fifties. 

Isn’t life a bitch?

She was the glue to our little family. 

I remember feeling anxious on the plane ride to her funeral. Every time I would fly to go see her, I’d intertwine my fingers together to silently pray. 

I’m going to see Nana. Please let me get there safely. 

I’d repeat it over and over again in my head. It calmed me. 

I haven’t felt that calm since. 

She always told my dad to buy Black stamps and read Black literature. If you don’t read it, they won’t print it.

And then he told me. 

When I told my dad I was experiencing depression and anxiety, he first asked what I had to be depressed about. 

I’m young. Healthy. Blessed. 


Losing my Nana has affected my romantic and platonic relationships and especially my mental stability. 

I hate my anxiety, but it has made me a stronger person. I constantly think someone is trying to screw me over (they usually are), but it makes me hypersensitive to the bullshit. 

The second thing my dad told me was that I couldn’t start using medication to cope. 

I was raised by a village that didn’t understand how I was feeling.

Black people think they are invincible. Black may not crack, but it does break down. 

We think that using medication is relinquishing our rights to our mental stability.

We, especially Black women, feel we need to take on the world. 

“Fuck it, I’ll do it,” said every Black woman ever

If we talked about our feelings more, if we unloaded our stress and released our vices, we’d be stronger mentally. 

We have to remember we aren’t invincible. If we were, Nana would still be here.

This is my weekly column where I’ll keep you updated on my straight-to-DVD life, my hip-hop snob opinions, being uncomfortable in this political climate and being a black woman in predominantly white spaces.