Black SEN Mamas
The woman behind Black Sen Mamas
Marsha Martin is a former Behavioural Therapist and the Founder and CEO of Black SEN Mamas. Black SEN Mamas are a support group and informational hub, which aids Black mothers of special educational needs and disabled (SEND) children, in sourcing adequate mental health support for themselves and SEND resources and provision, for their children. They have over 900 member mums and are still growing. Black SEN Mamas do regular support group sessions, meet ups, informative discussions and panel-led talks on all things Black mental health, Black motherhood and Black Neurodivergence. They also provide SEND activities/events and advocacy for SEND children, on behalf of their mothers/carers. They are big champions of “soft life” for Black women and of creating safe spaces for Black women to truly be open and vulnerable.
Please tell us about your career
Starting Black SEN Mamas was something that happened because I was frustrated about what the current support for someone like me, looked and felt like. I had just received a diagnosis of Autism spectrum disorder for my eldest daughter, who was four at the time. However, I had been pushing for a diagnosis from when she was six months old. As I was very proactive in this aspect; going to all the appointments and groups for SEND children, by the time we got the diagnosis, I was informed there wasn't much SEND provisions for a four year old, other than all the groups I had already previously accessed. She wouldn't be properly supported, until she was of school age. However, I was living in a place that was predominantly White and very different from my inner city beginnings. I had nowhere to be truly vulnerable; which I often describe as a shared trauma that Black women in the western world often face. The idea that I would have to learn to navigate and battle governmental systems which didn't seem to want to provide SEND families with the support they were entitled to, learning about autism and worrying for my child's future, dealing with every day life problems and to then have to contend with racism, in what essentially should have been a very safe space for me and my child, was devastating to me. This only added to the loneliness often felt by SEND mothers and I recognised, I didn't have the support network that I truly needed. I knew I needed friends. Friends who I could wholly relate to, and who understood me. Friends who I wouldn't worry about bringing my child around them and there was no judgement of my version of normal. There was a moment of clarity, where I understood what I needed to do.
The idea for Black SEN Mamas, is something I had always wanted to do for years, but didnt think I was capable of. I decided to build up Black SEN Mamas, throwing all my energy into it, just to see what I could bring into fruition. That was a pivotal moment in my life, deciding to truly internalise my locus of control, understanding my own significance in my life's potential. We are now at over nine hundred mothers, empowering each other daily and building genuine, authentic friendships. Creating this safe space has been one of the best decisions I have ever made!
I knew it would be both challenging and rewarding, but I think I underestimated to what extent. I feel like I have learned a lot, I have navigated a lot of the challenges, in a way that I feel the ideal, future version I hold of myself, would have managed - so although I was presented with challenges, I have been further empowered by my ability to effectively and effortlessly manage them. I am starting to learn that I am capable. I AM CAPABLE. I think that sentiment is one of the most important things I will have learned, in my lifetime. I've never felt this before and it further motivates me.
I think also being from a Caribbean background, there was a lot of unintentional gaslighting, surrounding when I became demotivated or outright burned out (which I didn't know was more frequent for ND individuals, until a few years ago), I'm always conscious of not being seen to be doing enough, for fear of being labelled as lazy or inadequate, in some way. I've learned through this journey, to stop viewing myself through neurotypical lenses (although that can slip sometimes) and overall, just be a lot kinder to myself and more accepting and welcoming, of when my body and brain are telling me to just be still, for a time. Having a career that calls for constant pause and introspection, is the best thing that could have happened for my personal journey of growth and self understanding.
I know that in many places, Black SEN mothers are receiving little to no support with their children and certainly not their mental health. I want Black SEN Mamas to be available to those who need it, on a global scale. I want Black SEN Mamas to genuinely be a lifeboat, to those who are drowning, wherever they are. We are also changing up what our support looks like, in terms of demographic. I'm holding the space for Brown SEN Mamas to come through and build a sister platform and for Black SEN Papas, to offer the men the support they sorely need. I have been working with the appropriate people, to help amplify their voices and also, so that they can utilise the structure of Black SEN Mamas, to go back and support their communities. Partnerships, in order to expand our support reach, is on the horizon and steadily coming into view.
How has being Neurodivergent shaped your career?
It has had a huge impact on my behaviour, which informed what work I allowed myself to pursue and how I felt within my roles. As much as I would consistently attain the top grades and any of the positions/placements I applied for, I was often fraught with self doubt, which lead to me feeling a lot of imposter syndrome as it pertained to my achievements. In retrospect, I strongly believe that had a lot to do with me having insight to a part of me, that many others didn't. What I now recognise as a very common aspect of neurodivergency was something I quietly experienced and understood, as me being embarrassingly inept at many things most of my peers were easily adept in. Knowing but not necessarily understanding why it was near impossible for me to "keep afloat" like everybody else, made me feel like I was never good enough, for anything I ever achieved, even though I achieved them by virtue of my own skills, experience and capabilities. Knowing that I was such a "mess" in my journey of achievement, made me feel like a bit of a fraud.
Conversely, the aptitude for thinking outside the box of societal standards, that comes with neurodivergence, can often be quite beneficial. I can appreciate a lot of my "quirks" now. Years of masking practice and being a self learned anthroplogist; studying people in order to fit in, enables me to recognise things of value, to people. Remembering important, specific things about them, how to be charmingly personable, how to make others feel comfortable enough to be vulnerable with me, about their true concerns. I always tell my mamas "this is a safe space and if we are not being vulnerable, then we are not healing", and being able to bring vulnerability out of people, in a comfortable way, is a gift. Many years of feeling like an outsider, led to being ever-conscious that everyone wants to feel valued and accepted as they are and so I approach everyone, with this in mind. I'm immediately accepting of differences and diversity; championing and encouraging it, even. I'm a great listener, I'm attentive, I hate any injustice and am passionate about all things social justice and equality- I put this down to my lived experience, as a Black, ND Individual, in a world that isn't so accommodating to us.
Do you feel that your career is a good fit for an Neurodivergent woman?
I am lucky enough to have somehow cultivated a career path that offers flexibility, grace, empathy and understanding, from the community I support. These mothers face the same challenges as me; so there is a deeper understanding and a collective want for me to acheive and do better for the group, as well as for myself. Additionally, having a sense of definitive purpose, in what I do, serves for the best type of motivation. It's very easy for me to become demotivated, when experiencing frequent burnout; which is common to those who are ND. But there is something in knowing that what I do genuinely helps people, that gives me the energy to be able to continue on, in doing what I do.
A link to our go fund me page, which tells you more about what we do,
A link to our socials
(questions by woman in the box)
Article by Alton Anderson