I am a native of South Central LA. I am a first-generation college student. I am a Black Woman. My success is an anomaly to many, but if I had failed, it would have been by design.
Before Sixth grade, I was just a smart girl with a smart mouth, but when I left, I was a smart black girl with a smart black mouth. Weird right? Well, let me explain. Most Black girls in predominantly non-black communities have a moment when they realize THEY ARE BLACK. For me, sixth grade caused a hyper-awareness of my being. I had a teacher who called my dad every week. He never called anyone else’s parents in a class full of students he could not control, and surpriseeee…… It was only one black girl. I had friends who would teach me Spanish just to make fun of how it sounded as I said it back to them. I had a male yard supervisor put my hands behind my back as he walked me across the yard and told me he hopes I get arrested just for standing on a bench. Though there was one good person in my life, and even at that moment, I hated her.
Mrs. Taylor was our interim vice-principal, a black woman; she would call me into her office and tell me how much I would be successful, how smart I was, and how I was going to college, and I hated her for it. I hated that she rubbed in this potential I was sure I would never reach. How could I? I was surrounded by people who worked jobs they hated just to survive. I was in a home I felt invisible in and taking care of a child I did not have.
All I had been told were these constant stories of criminals. Harriett Tubman stole people’s property. Rosa Parks was arrested because she broke the law. MLK Jr. was arrested because he broke the law. I had been told that if you commit a crime, you do time, so as I watched black bodies put in black cars, how could I not associate blackness with criminality?
How could I take inspiration from stories framing black people as criminals? How could I see myself outside of everything I had seen before that?
I made it to college just like Mrs. Taylor said, but not because of why she said I would. I went to college because I didn’t want to be a stereotype. I wanted to be what Du Bois described as the talented tenth. During my freshman year, I refused to take any black studies courses because I knew enough; I mean, I grew up black what else did I need to learn? Sociology gave me my blackness back. Ever since that moment in sixth grade when I became aware of my blackness, I subconsciously wanted to distance myself from it. In Sociology, I learned the truth about what position society has placed me in as a black woman and it was not a coincidence it was punishment. From that class on, I made it my mission to relearn what it was to be black. I took my first black studies class and fell in love with Malcolm X, The Black Panther Party, and all these activists I had been denied in place of a white-centered education. I went from being on probation and refusing black studies to graduating with a Double Major in Sociology and Black Studies.
Today I put every ounce of my being into Education, Mass Incarceration Reform, Diversity, Equity, and inclusion, and when people ask me why I give the same reason every time because I was lied to. I have to make sure that other people feel seen, motivated, and heard because that is the only gift I can give to help my little me. College was enlightening, but it was then that I realized that although I loved education, it did not love me.