Tania De’Shawn is an important voice in Alabama and beyond. The Birmingham-based writer continues to find new ways to encourage and uplift her community through her Element Agape media business. De’Shawn has utilized multiple media mediums to achieve this goal. Podcasts, poetry, educational classes, and her 2022 book “be gentle with black girls” have all shaped perspectives while helping people feel seen and understood by an influential stranger. Previous classes have included career changes and other helpful life discussions. The next class on De’Shawn’s schedule will be a mirror choreography workshop at the Birmingham Children’s Theatre on February 12th.

“Poetry definitely was the first place where I found my voice. I took one writing class in high school at the Alabama School of Fine Arts. It was a summer camp and at the end, we had to share this poem and I had this little tiny baby poem,” De’Shawn recalls of her first impactful spoken word moment, “I got up and shared my poem and afterward this older white guy came up to me and was like ‘I really resonated with your words. That was so powerful.’” At this moment, Tania witnessed the unifying power of poetry among people who seemingly had little in common.

While the high school class intrigued De’Shawn, it was a college writing course at Berea College with future Kentucky Poet Laureate Crystal Wilkinson that lit a literary fire. “She embraced all of us as young writers,” Tania shared of her influential instructor. The class was a smaller size - only about 10 students - so they were able to really get to know each other and attend events throughout the area. De’Shawn’s interest was further intrigued during her college years but it would take a little while after her 2018 graduation for the full multimedia vision to be realized.

Tania De’Shawn continues to bring great classes to the people of Birmingham. Images provided by Tania De’Shawn

Element Agape was the first piece of the puzzle to come together. De’Shawn was attending a prophetic night at a church she was attending at the time. Tania was given the word “Agape” on a piece of paper and went to talk to congregants with other words. A woman with the word “Element” told De’Shawn that she felt an energy about her, sparking what would eventually be the name for a multimedia movement. When she started her podcast, there was only one name that she could go with: Element Agape. The podcast’s main purpose was to collect stories from Black women that centered around a wide variety of topics such as environmental justice, immigration, and faith.  “I don’t think people think of us in that context,”De’Shawn shares, “I think people think of us as strong, but not what makes us strong.” The next discussions centered around items such as self-care and meditation based on the community’s response. 

The podcast was going great, but writing soon returned to the forefront. “During the pandemic, I reconnected with that part of myself and everything has grown in a way that I could not have imagined,” De’Shawn shares, “I had nothing to do. I had just relocated from Kentucky to Alabama and everyone I had known here was gone pretty much. It was also lockdown and nobody was doing anything, so I started writing.” 

“be gentle with black girls”, which was published by Element Agape in March 2021, is the largest literary container from this stretch of inspired writings. “I wanted to humanize Black girls but I think the overflow of the project is that it humanizes all Black children. That’s my hope. I studied Psychology and during the pandemic I was reading a lot and I got into articles again. I love reading scientific articles. I ran across this one called ‘Girlhood Interrupted: The Adultification of Black Girls’,” De'Shawn explains. The study by the Georgetown Center on Poverty and Inequality inspired Tania in new ways, and she would start sharing it at open mics and other speaking opportunities. “When I read it I felt so seen. I’ve never read a study where I felt it was up-to-date and I felt seen. I started preaching on it. I was like ‘This is my word.’”

The goal of the book is to help those in education systems and throughout the community be aware of the harm that comes from labeling kids - especially girls - at an early age. De’Shawn was unsure of the reception she would receive with a book that bluntly tells its truth, but has been overwhelmed with positive responses since its release.  “They get into the text and so many people say ‘You’ve articulated what I’ve struggled to articulate and if I’m ever struggling I have something to give to someone so they know how I feel.’” De’Shawn feels the same appreciation for those around her, stating “It gives me strength seeing people live out what they preach and I’ve been so blessed to be surrounded by people who are action-oriented. When I’m running my race and I look over and see someone on their journey, that keeps me energized and hopeful while I work.”

The move back to the Magic City was another important part of Tania’s growth and fulfilling her purpose. “It has definitely reconnected me with a Birmingham I didn’t know growing up. It has grown over the past years. I feel grateful to be able to create change for the students in Birmingham. I teach them about self-love,” De’Shawn explains, “The whole purpose for me is the kids, young adults, and elders in the community - when they see me they know that change and growth are possible and we’re not limited to the stereotypes that are placed on us.” 

Tania De’Shawn and Element Agape have been pretty busy over the last few years, but are looking forward to even more workshops, writing, and even getting into filmography. The goal for the next 11 months is to “provide opportunities for spiritual and healing growth through meditations and affirmation and to invite more women to tell their story.” We would say mission success already.