Andreena Leeanne, is a Black Lesbian Lived Experience Speaker, Writing Workshop Facilitator & Poet.
She writes and performs poetry to come to terms with and speak out about her personal experiences with homelessness, mental health, childhood sexual abuse & the many other challenges she has faced in her life.
In January 2015 Andreena founded Poetry LGBT Open Mic Night.
Andreena has performed her poetry at various community-led events, Labour Party events and for Local Authorities and at International Women’s Day events. Her work was published in the anthology Sista! (Team Angelica, 2018). Her debut poetry collection CHARRED has also been published by Team Angelica October 2020.
In 2018 She was one of Stonewall’s Black History Month role models. In 2020 she was shortlisted for a Positive LGBT Role Model National Diversity Award.
In 2021 Andreena became a trustee of a charity called Action Breaks Silence whose mission is to end violence against women and girls.
Please share a bit with us about your upbringing
I was born in Hendon, London in 1981. I have a half-brother who is a year older than me. We were both sent to live with our grandparents in Jamaica when I was a year old because my mother struggled to cope with the two of us.
My mother often visited us in Jamaica and on one of her trips she met a Jamaican man called Leroy who she married in Jamaica shortly after meeting him. Leroy began sexually abusing me at the age of 5 and the abuse continued when we returned to London to live with our mother when I was 7 years old.
At the age of 10 my mother caught Leroy sexually abusing me in her bed. She had left the flat and returned within a short time as if she had forgotten something. She quickly called the police and Leroy was arrested and later sent to prison.
Although my mum did the right thing at the time by calling the police, she later blamed me for ruining her marriage.
How did you discover your love for poetry and writing?
I always enjoyed writing and as a teenager I kept journals. When I was about 14 years old my mum found my journal in my bedroom and read it. I vividly remember returning from school to find my bedroom trashed and my mum screaming at me with my journal in her hand. I had written ‘I hate my mum in huge letters’. From that day on I stopped writing. I didn’t trust that my words were safe so I kept everything in my head where no one could read and access my thoughts.
In 2013 I met my partner Germaine who relies on journaling as a form of self-care. She bought me a journal and suggested I write down my thoughts and feelings as a way of coping as I had developed unhealthy coping mechanisms over the years and would often lash out and be tearful over the littlest things.
I wasn’t sold on the idea of journaling at first so the untouched journal gathered dust in the cupboard for a year.
In 2014 we went to an open mic night in London. I was minding my own business queuing for the toilet when a man approached me and asked if I wanted to join the open mic. I asked him for a pen and paper and wrote a poem about the event and plucked up the courage to share what I had written to everyone. I received a massive round of applause. That night changed my life. From then on, I dusted off the journal Germaine bought me and continued to write.
Please share with us your journey in writing your book CHARRED and
the thought behind the title
During the first Covid 19 lockdown I reflected on the poems I had been writing since 2014 and decided to put some of them in a book.
Writing down how I feel has been hugely therapeutic for me. My thought at that time is that I want others to write as a form of therapy so I contacted Team Angelica Publishing who were very receptive of my vision.
I had intended to call the book SCARRED but John, my publisher, suggested calling the book CHARRED as it was mentioned in one of my poems. I researched the meaning of charred and what I found was fascinating and summed up the book perfectly. I also contacted a specialist based in the UK who deals with charred wood who was kind enough to send me samples in the post. The samples were beautiful.
Think of a piece of wood that has been exposed to the flames. You may think of it as damaged and it’s true it has been burnt and blackened but it is still resilient and much stronger after going through this process. Think of me, Andreena Leeanne as a piece of charred wood.
Based on your personal experience what tools would you suggest to
women going through their healing process
I would strongly suggest practicing self-care and reciting positive affirmations daily. These are tools I use constantly as I am still on my healing journey. It is a lifelong process. It’s so easy to let negative thoughts and self-doubt creep in so by regularly telling myself how lovely and beautiful I am, those negative thoughts are kept at bay.
How have you looked after your mental health during the pandemic
This pandemic is taking a toll on all of us in different ways. Being intentional about my self-care by checking in with how I’m feeling, journaling, spending time in nature, playing my handpan, helping others and being creative has helped me during this challenging time.
What have been your proudest moments and why?
Many of my proudest moments involve my 19-year-old daughter. I have successfully raised a daughter doing everything in my power to protect her and I feel extremely proud. Renee has grown up to be articulate, creative, kind and considerate.
What’s your favourite quote?
‘The journey to healing begins with self-care’ is a quote I made up recently when I was reflecting on what has helped me to keep going.
What’s next for Andreena?
Every time someone tells me how much my words have helped them it gives me more strength and courage to keep going, so I am going to stay on the caring and compassionate path I am currently on by continuing to help others to speak and write their truth.