What I learned about sisterhood and self care from Cleo Wade’s Heart Talk

By Jezz Chung

The other week, poet and activist Cleo Wade stopped at Williamsburg’s McNally Jackson as part of her Heart Talk tour. Instead of promoting her book on her book tour, she’s been gathering a few friends in each city to have a conversation “to talk about how we heal, how we create, and how we take care of ourselves during these crazy times.”

I wasn’t sure what to expect. Cleo is a writer I’ve admired for years. As a poet in progress, I strive to find the striking clarity she emits in her work. As soon as she began talking, her intention was clear: she was here to create a sacred space for women (and the few men sprinkled throughout), a place where we could fill the often-neglected parts of our hearts.

She opened the night by asking us to hug a stranger. An alarmingly human gesture that set the tone for the night. She introduced three of her sister friends and for the next hour, they opened up about what self care really means (not the version that’s been commoditized) and the myths we’ve been taught about sisterhood. 

Here are my takeaways.

Self care is self love.

When you strip down the concept of self care, we’re really talking about taking the time and energy to fill ourselves with love. And love is as much an action and practice as it is an emotion. 

Love also looks different for everyone. To find a self care routine, ask yourself: what makes you feel good? Now dedicate space and time in your life to practice those things. 

And though self care has been monetized by companies and marketed as something that has to cost x amount, there’s more to self care than yoga and sage (which are both valid and important, if that’s what brings you joy!)

An exercise: list 5 things you can do for free to take care of yourself, and reference it regularly. They can be as small and specific as complimenting yourself in the mirror or as broad and encompassing as learning to forgive yourself when you make mistakes (self-forgiveness is a self care tool).

Why is self care important? 

If you can be the best for yourself, you become the best for everything and everyone around you. 

Don’t underestimate the power of a mantra.

Originating in Hinduism and Buddhism, a mantra refers to a sacred sound believed to have psychological and spiritual powers. Western interpretations of mantras have become more intention-based, but for these intents and purposes, a mantra is a phrase we can repeat to ourselves in times of distress to help realign our perspective and help us get through whatever BS life is throwing our way.

A few mantras Cleo Wade and her sister friends shared to stay focused on our goals, especially in spaces where we find ourselves as the minority:

“This matters.”

In our jobs, we all do things we don’t want to do. And as women, especially as women of color, our voices often feel small and insignificant. But being there in that room, in that moment, matters. Remember that.


“This is bigger than me.”

Especially if we work in spaces pushing for equality, justice, and change, it’s easy to feel weary. Remember that what you’re doing is not just for you. It’s for the next generation of people who can grow in a world that looks better than the one you grew up in.

“I am not alone. My ancestors are with me.”

Generations of women have been rooting for you to own every space you walk into, to be your best, most authentic self. You are here because there were others before you. 

Your first thought may not always be the right thought. 

Because we live in a society that has a history of oppressing women, we often fall victim to the habits of our oppressors. One of these habits is seeing every other woman as our competition. This needs to stop. 

We’ve been taught that there can only be “one final rose.” We’re taught that we must compete with each other to succeed, when really, we succeed better through collaboration and support. 

Cleo says, “be a womentor.” We shouldn’t inherit the fears and habits of people before us. What are we doing to make sure we’re speaking to people who don’t feel seen and heard? Remember that the work we do isn’t for ourselves, but to make this planet more inheritable for the people after us. 

To create a better, more inclusive world, we have to focus on the things we want to dismantle. At the same time, we have to think of the things we want to build. And we can’t do it alone. 

Find your tribe of co-dreamers and do it together. 

Choose to be a thermostat, not a thermometer.

Alright, all this talk about self love and sisterhood is great, but let’s face it. We all have emotions that stretch beyond love and warmth and peace and all the fuzzy things that feel good in a vacuum. All of this is hard to remember when we’re confronted with someone who isn’t in the same collaborative, loving headspace.

What do we do in those times? What do we do when someone doesn’t receive our positive energy, or worse — what do we do when we’re on the receiving end of negative energy? 

This is when we choose to be a thermostat. A thermometer rises and falls with its environment, while a thermostat sets the temperature. Be kind, even when you aren’t receiving kindness. Be brave, even when you’re faced with fear. Remember, cruelty usually comes from fear. 

What someone does with your positive energy is none of your business. If they choose not to receive it, keep it moving.

That was powerful to hear. 

Can we practice all of these tips daily? Probably not. We’re still human. We’re still unlearning much of what we’ve been taught by a society that profits off of our ignorance and competitiveness. We’re still humans with a wide-ranging set of emotions. 

But we can try. Because sometimes all it takes is a little love and a little heart talk to remind us that we’re better when we take care of ourselves and take care of each other.

For more from Cleo Wade, visit her Instagram and check out her collection of poems, notes, and love letters in Heart Talk.


Jezz Chung is an advertising copywriter by day and poet in progress by night. Find her on Instagram @jezzbereal

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