Departure Story honors and highlights the Caribbean-American and Black immigrant experiences through the eyes of Celestine, who arrives in the United States and begins testing the boundaries of her power in several facets of life. (Courtesy Photo)

By Dareise A. Jones
Special to the AFRO

Rowana Abbensetts Dobson, writer, mental health advocate and entrepreneur published her first novel Departure Story this summer.

Born in Brooklyn, New York to parents who immigrated from Guyana, the Abbensetts family moved to Queens when the author was in elementary school.

Abbensetts Dobson describes her family as “Caribbean transplants in Queens,” who were deeply connected to their Guyanese roots, while also learning and adapting to African American culture.

She wrote Departure Story to honor and highlight the Caribbean-American (and Black immigrant) experience, a perspective, she explained, is not seen enough in media and literature. It is her love letter to the African Diaspora and culture.

“It’s a novel about displacement and creating home. It’s also about finding your voice within the chaos and making a stand for what you believe in wherever you are. Celestine (the main character of the novel) gets to a new country, and she’s testing the boundaries of her power in love, friendships and politics. I hope it will make some Black girl who is reading White male authors in her American Lit class feel seen,” Abbensetts Dobson said of the fictional coming-of-age story.

Departure Story is for those who have felt misunderstood, underestimated and judged based on stereotypes.

Abbensetts Dobson pulled inspiration from her own experience of being the “odd one out” in majority-white spaces in college and at the start of her career.

She earned her bachelor’s degree in English and Creative Writing from Kenyon College in Ohio, where she had many great experiences, but also struggled with feeling seen and heard as sometimes the only, or one of a few Black students in classes and other campus activities and environments.

“I went to a PWI (predominantly White institution), and it wasn’t necessarily the space where Black stories were being nurtured, or where I felt safe developing or speaking in my own voice,” she revealed.

The loneliness and isolation she experienced during college triggered depression and anxiety for the author. Her mental health declined so much that she attempted to end her life. This severe mental health crisis motivated her to get help, which she says was abundant on her college campus.

“I was fortunate to have so many more mental health and wellness resources at that time,” Abbensetts Dobson explained. “When I lived in Jamaica, Queens we had to go outside of my community to find my therapist.”

Rowana Abbensetts Dobson is a Guyanese American writer and entrepreneur who recently released the novel {Departure Story}. (Photo by Adeline Artistry)

After graduating from college, Abbensetts Dobson was excited about her first job working for a mainstream publishing company. It allowed her to fulfill her dream of working with literary agents and scouts. Her role was to write reports on books the company sent to movie studios and foreign publishers for deals.

Once again, she was the only, or one of a few people of color there. She decided to use that to her advantage to get more authors of color published. She was disappointed when she saw firsthand how stories about people of color were overlooked in the mainstream publishing space.

Disillusioned and drained, Abbensetts Dobson moved on to serve as a social media manager for a non-profit that was also a magazine. She says she soon realized their allyship for Black and Brown communities was shallow.

“They would put people of color on their cover,” Abbensetts Dobson shared. “But when it came to police brutality and the real issues that are affecting Black and Brown people, as their social media manager, I would get pushback when I wanted to post tweets about the real issues.”

Abbensetts Dobson’s disillusionment with her experience in the publishing industry and her journey to mental wellness motivated her to create Spoken Black Girl, “a space for womxn of color to tell their stories of joy, pain, growth, and transformation while sharing practical solutions for holistic healing.”

The Spoken Black Girl community has become the safe space Abbensetts Dobson needed during her college years.

Abbensetts Dobson wanted to own and control her work, so she decided to self-publish Departure Story through her company Spoken Black Girl Publishing. This route is risky and takes a lot of work, but her tribe, which includes Alexandria Marble Editing, Pretty Entrepreneur and Women Creatives Chat founder Emelda De Coteau, who handles public relations, have contributed their skills and support to the project.

Departure Story inspires readers to tap into their courage to create the lives they desire. The story isn’t just about a physical departure from one’s home country to another, it is also about the importance of the departure from the judgment, stigmas and self-limiting beliefs that stifle our power, and our power is our unique, flawed, painful and beautiful stories.

Departure Story is available at www.spokenblackgirl.com, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble. Follow @spokenblackgirl on Instagram to learn more about Rowana and to join the Spoken Black Girl community.

Help us Continue to tell OUR Story and join the AFRO family as a member – subscribers are now members!  Join here!