‘We deserve to be taken care of’: This modern tea party experience is dedicated to Black women

Two women take a selfie on an instant camera next to a vase of flowers.
Summer Dean, left, and T’Essence Minnitee take a snap during an event held by the wellness-focused nonprofit Tea Party 4 Black Girls at Malibu Farm.
(Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)
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From the moment guests arrived at Malibu Farm for a tea party on a chilly Saturday afternoon, they were treated like royalty.

Though a line of patrons stretched outside of the farm-to-table eatery on the Malibu pier, the tea party guests were promptly escorted inside. And before they could find their assigned seats at an embellished dining table, a waiter rushed over to offer them a hibiscus tequila cocktail, never letting their glasses go empty during the elaborate four-course meal. At one point during the party, a woman skeptically asked, “We can really take whatever we want?” after spotting a display of clothing from Mother Denim, which was co-sponsoring the event, among other items. (The answer was yes, absolutely.)

A smiling woman holds a cocktail up next to her face
Bianka Gravillis started Tea Party 4 Black Girls in 2022 to provide a space for Black women, including nonbinary people, to feel taken care of and to discuss issues in their community with like-minded people.
(Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)

It’s the type of service that Bianka Gravillis — the CEO and creator of Tea Party 4 Black Girls — says Black women should have access to wherever they go, regardless of whether they’re an “influencer” or not.

“I feel like we’ve been treated as second-class citizens” in certain spaces, says Gravillis, who floated around the tea party in an all-denim fit, looking as confident as Queen Charlotte but friendlier. “[Black women] should be able to do the bare minimum and the max, and still be treated like an absolute queen.”

Through Tea Party 4 Black Girls, Gravillis says her “goal is to get Black women taken care of in every sense of the word.”


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The Mid-City native dreamed up Tea Party 4 Black Girls to create a space where Black women, including nonbinary people, could feel like their overall wellness — mental, physical, financial and social — was being prioritized and where they could comfortably discuss issues that affect their community. The nonprofit hosts a variety of bimonthly events that are free and invite-only, though people can fill out a sign-up form to attend.

“I didn’t like the idea of creating something for our community and then having them pay for it,” says Gravillis, adding that she initially paid for the events out of her own pocket with a partner but that they now have other budgetary streams, including brand partnerships. “You got to pay to go to a flea market. You got to pay to go to a party. You got to pay for everything. It’s like, is there not just a place that will take care of me?”

The idea for Tea Party 4 Black Girls came to Gravillis in early 2022 after she experienced a series of tumultuous events. In 2020, when the pandemic hit, she moved from Philadelphia — where she was attending Drexel University — back to L.A.; her parents were separating and she was trying to get an apartment for herself and her high-school-age brother.

A group of people sit at a long decorated table, chatting.
Bianka Gravillis, the founder of Tea Party 4 Black Girls, thoughtfully curates the guest lists for each of their events, which cater to Black women.

A group of women chat over a meal. Flowers in vases and plates of food cover the table.
“We call it a modern take on tea parties because it’s not like everyone’s pulling up in [fascinator] hats and has all the fancy dresses, and like crumpets and everything,” Bianka Gravillis says, adding that she wants people to “come as you are.”
(Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)


“I wasn’t sleeping very well,” she says. “I didn’t know how to navigate very important conversations because I was just stressed and exhausted.” Having gone to predominantly white schools since she was a kid, Gravillis longed to have a community of Black women whom she could talk to and “really get things off my chest,” she says. So she created it herself.

Gravillis says she chose to support Black women specifically through her nonprofit because of the unique challenges they face in their personal and professional lives.

“I think there is across the board a level of exhaustion that our entire Black woman community has,” says Gravillis. “Whether it’s because we’ve been put in these caregiving positions very early in life. Whether that’s because we have siblings or we have children young ... there’s just such a level of dependency I think so many people have on Black women.”

She adds, “This space is important because I think other Black women need to know that we are all experiencing, not necessarily the same thing but a variation of a lot of the same stuff, and there’s a lot of ancestral trauma that we haven’t really had an opportunity to really spend time unpacking or just talk through with a vast group of Black women that have completely different backgrounds or different abilities to home in on their emotions.”

Gravillis threw the first Tea Party 4 Black Girls event in May 2022, and has since hosted about 10 local events, including ones at Formula Fig (a technology-focused spa for skincare treatments), Tea at Shiloh (a late-night teahouse), Highly Likely (a cafe in West Adams) and Ask Tia (a healthcare clinic created for and by women).


Among the events are intimate meetups (no more than 10 guests) where they typically do an activity like painting and discuss a topic such as how to embody self-love; founder Fridays, at which they treat local entrepreneurs to services like facials and sound baths; and branded events (no more than 25 guests) where they team up with companies like Mother Denim for a soirée.

Gravillis thoughtfully curates the guest lists based on what type of event it is or its industry focus. For example, at the recent event at Malibu Farm, the theme was sustainability, so many of the guests worked in that field or had an interest in the topic (environmentalists, foragers, models, herbalists and aestheticians).

The nonprofit also hosts mixers, which are its only public event open to allies of the Black community. At the mixers, which feel more like a lively L.A. day party than a mellow tea gathering, you can expect networking, cocktails and raffle prizes. (Guests have to pay for food and drinks at the mixers.)

The dress code for Tea Party 4 Black Girls events isn’t as restrictive as the waist-snatching corsets depicted on “Bridgerton.” Rather, Gravillis encourages guests to “come as you are.”

“We call it a modern take on tea parties because it’s not like everyone’s pulling up in [fascinator] hats and has all the fancy dresses, and like crumpets and everything,” Gravillis says. She added “tea party” to the name of the nonprofit because she wanted the events to feel “bougie but accessible.” The parties always feature some form of tea, whether it’s traditional hot tea, iced tea or a tea-infused alcoholic beverage.


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Doorjé Animashaun of West Hollywood attended the first Tea Party 4 Black Girls event last year just months after moving from Amsterdam to L.A. She was a new mom in a new city, and she didn’t know anyone besides her husband and his loved ones.

During the tea party, Gravillis posed one compelling question to the group that signaled to Animashaun that she was in the right place: “Where do you feel like you need support right now in your life?”

A group of women work on waist beads and bracelets.
A group of women design waist beads and bracelets provided by Foofie Friday during a recent Tea Party 4 Black Girls event.
(Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)

“I got a little bit emotional because I needed a lot of support,” she says. “It wasn’t even that I only needed support in my career, but mentally and even physically. I needed to know that I didn’t sound crazy repeating these things to myself. You talk to your boyfriend, husband, your brother, but sometimes talking to a woman, it shifts your perspective on so many things.

“That first intimate [tea party] represented what I wanted — like what Michelle Obama says — my kitchen table to look like,” the 27-year-old says. “These are women I definitely can learn something from.” She’s been to every tea party since and is now the communications manager for the nonprofit.


Jessa Williams, founder of a local intersectional women’s surf collective called Intrsxtn Surf, says she enjoys going to the tea parties because she’s been able to meet other entrepreneurial Black women who aren’t just there to network for business purposes.

“People are actually going to try to get to know one another for real,” says Williams, who attended the event at Malibu Farm. “It’s a welcoming energy. It’s a loving energy.”

Mia Jenkins of Koreatown says she didn’t realize that she needed a community like Tea Party 4 Black Girls until she went to her first event last year.

“I feel like the dialogue between everybody is very fluid,” says Jenkins, 25, who runs a jewelry brand called Archive 020, adding that she always leaves the tea parties feeling “fulfilled.” “I’ve met so many girls who have their own businesses [and] are creative, and I’ve been able to connect with them in that way.”

She adds, “Every time I’ve been to an event, I’m more and more comfortable with starting conversation with people that I don’t know, and it’s also carried into other areas of my life, so that’s been a great payoff for me.”


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Many of the tea party guests have been between the ages of 18 and 35, but Gravillis says she’s been exploring ways to get other age groups involved. In the coming months, the nonprofit will launch a new event series in which it will partner with local creatives to host activities such as cooking, beading, crocheting and reading.

Gravillis says her dream is to have a house where Tea Party 4 Black Girls can host events regularly, and to eventually build wellness centers around L.A. that would have a “pay-what-you-can” model to make them accessible. Sometimes the nonprofit offers Uber discount codes and parking vouchers for its invite-only events to alleviate financial barriers.

By the end of the tea party the women, who started out mostly as strangers, were taking selfies together, following each other on Instagram and exchanging phone numbers. Gravillis cheerfully handed each of the guests Ikea-style reusable shopping bags brimming with products from brands that sponsor the nonprofit, including body oil, package-free body wash, rolling papers, socks and a candle.

She feels satisfied knowing that they left with more than the free products.

“I hope that everyone leaves just a little bit more at peace than how they came,” she beams. “And I hope that everyone feels a little more loved than before they came, a little bit more seen, and more fed. I just hope everyone just feels taken care of.”

She passionately adds, “We deserve to be taken care of.”

Pink, orange and green tea-inspired nonalcoholic drinks and cocktails in mason jars and tumblers on a serving plate.
Sticking to the modern tea party theme, Tea Party 4 Black Girls offered tea-inspired nonalcoholic drinks and cocktails at a recent event.
(Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)