I want all of you to see that you are more than capable of completing every single thing you write down in your planner, take note of as your goals, fight for in your everyday life, and strive to complete. You are more than capable to conquer everything even beyond that.
You are smart. No matter what anyone tells you, you are intelligent. Your mind is filled with colors, your thoughts add sparkle, and your dreams put forth the most incomparable magic that shines through the shade of your skin. Your Blackis beautiful.
You are beautiful. And although there will be days where you won’t love how the curls fall on your face, how your skin carries your ancestors, and how your curves hold your resilience, through every corner, crack, or whichever ways oppression tries to sneak its way in, you are beautiful. And I need for you to recognize this not only when you look in the mirror, but when you tell yourself that what others are saying are not true. When you notice the lack of representation on your tv screen, hear the rhetoric from the community around you, and taste the sour feeling of someone who carries hate in their heart as they look your way:
You are meant to be here. And no matter how much this world tries to shrink you, pull you apart, or erase you– you are meantto be here.
And I can’t wait to wish you a happy birthday again.
I am fine with awards. Those show that people are recognizing the work you have put in, the amount of yourself you have given to a cause, and ensure that you are being appreciated for all that you have done. Certainly, it is about time that Women of Color start being recognized for all that they have actually been doing for years.
I am fine with recognition. It is nice to know that people are seeing all that I have put my heart into, understand that I am not just doing this just to do it, but I am doing it to make the lives of those who look like me significantly better than what I have had, what my mother has had, what grandmother has had, and more. Continuing the work of my ancestors, gaining the courage to act against racial oppression in whichever way possible, and wholeheartedly understanding that people are always going to tell me that I can’t, but that only motivates me to show them that oh, in fact, I can. And I’ll do it significantly better than they assumed I would.
But for me, it’s not about the awards. It’s not about winning. Those aren’t important factors for me, although I am so grateful for the recognition of being able to represent girls of color and have them see me and realize they are able to do that as well. It’s about the individual lives I have learned that I have touched. It’s about seeing a student at the beginning of the year, learning about them, understanding their past, relating with their oppression, and challenging them to help them understand that the sky is not their limit. It’s about hearing at the end of the year, “Tasia, watching you has only made me want to do more. I did not think I would complete high school and I did, and seeing you has definitely made me want to push to complete college.”
That’s what I live for.
I graduated from Framingham State University. If you would have told me I would be graduating from a college that I became a Front Desk Attendant at the tutoring center, Orientation Leader, Foundations Peer Mentor, Resident Assistant, Administrative Resident Assistant, Student Admissions Representative, Supplemental Instructor, Sexual Harassment and Education Prevention Student Liaison Facilitator, Managing Editor and Public Affairs Intern for the Council on Contemporary Families with published work, a phenomenal woman nomination (Thank you, Bailey!), and left with two state awards, and a regional award later… I would have told you that you were the biggest liar in the world. I would have denied what you were saying, minimized my potential, and told you that you have the wrong girl. But now, looking back on all of my accomplishments, I can literally say, “girl, you did that.” That was all me. And of course, those who supported me along the way. Those who believed in me regardless of my skin color, disregarded the stereotypes forced upon me, dismissed the negative ideas related to being a Black woman, and allowed for me to shine in any way that I wanted to.
That’s what I live for.
I chose to surround myself with people who were fully aware of the issues I face, wanted to support me, and were entirely there for me throughout the entire process. Although not everyone was there for me since day one, like Marcie, or Amanda, Brandi, or even Virginia, and plenty more — the moments that they were there for me made all of the difference. It was about being able to go to them just to talk about my feelings, voice my concerns, when I needed reminders that I was capable, and being 100% and authentically myself with them. Finding people that I did not have to pretend in front of.
I was used to pretending… putting on my “professional” voice, sitting cross-legged, ensuring that my outfit was just the right bit loose and not too tight or revealing because the way people saw me cause of my skin color changed even how I dressed. I had to make sure that I looked professional every day, smiled lots so people wouldn’t be scared around me, and made sure I spoke with the most light-hearted voice I could. But when you find the right people, you do not have to pretend around them.
It took me a whole year to find my people, to move forward with my passions, and to fit where I felt I belonged.
It was my second year of college that had changed everything. After a break up, a few weeks of crying, and a few moments of “who the hell am I?” I battled with feeling confident on some days and ready to the crumble the next. Something about being extremely independent is that I never would allow people to help me. I wanted to take things on myself, handle every situation that brought me into emotional turmoil behind closed doors, and I never wanted to say no. Having six jobs during my second year of college, I felt as though it was time for me to say yes to help and no to things I could not do. With all of the twists that came my way in sophomore year, I still remained on top. I graduated, didn’t I? With a 3.7 overall GPA and 3.9 in my major.
The world does not want Black women to be confident, to share their successes, to be recognized, but I will repeat myself time and time again. With the amount of external forces trying to push me down, the negative words I was hearing about me from others or sometimes even directly, White men being angry and claiming that “I get everything,” when in fact I have worked tirelessly to get to where I am now, remaining calm in the face of injustices happening around me that I always took personally, balancing 6 jobs, academics, a social life, and wanting to be the biggest supporter for others: I did it. And I’m not finished yet.
I may have done this in the traditional four years. However, something that I want you all to take note of is the fact that it does not matter how you do it or how long it takes you to do it. If it takes you longer, that does not mean you failed. At least you did it. You had the support system to get you there, the mind-set to believe in yourself (and it is okay that on some days, you do not feel like you believe in yourself. Turn to your friends, your family, and those who are true to you on those days. Those who make you feel empowered and who remind you who you are. You are not weak when you get help, acknowledging your vulnerable moments and taking care of yourself is the strongest thing you can do), and you have had the resilience to keep persisting. When you feel like stopping, when you feel like you are doing everything wrong, when you feel tired, take a break, heal, and start over again.
Because even in this world full of injustice, full of systems that want you to fail, you are doing it.
And watching you, helping you rise, and supporting you throughout your success, however you measure it…
Black girls at my school always thought I was too White to be a part of their groups… that I acted White.
What the heck did that even mean?
When I looked down at my skin, saw how people stared at me in shopping malls, stopped me in Walmart due to the fact they believed I was stealing, how people talked to me in the classroom, treated me on school grounds… I have been pretty certain that I have been Black my whole entire life.
But why wasn’t I the “right type” of Black?
These girls were preaching about checking in on each other, ensuring that we are all one, saying that we need to stand by each other but growing up in Amherst with my skin… it left me feeling like an outcast both in Amherst and in Framingham.
I remember the names I would get called when I was younger. People told me I was an “o r e o ” since I was White on the inside and Black on the outside…and this gracefully carried over into college when people would tell me, “you’re not like other black girls! you’re different!” and me analyzing every curl of their lips when they stated things like that. I still think about when I would preach about unity and although I understand when I say, “white people” I am not specifically talking about individual white people—this is all one big systemic issue. If you’re reading this, read it with the mindset that white privilege is real, America is constantly comparing my beauty standards to those who are white, and those with lighter skin- in any race- get some benefits compared to those with darker skin.
But something that always tugged at me was the fact that some Black girls, including those of darker complexion, wouldn’t include me in their conversations. I did not “act” how they wanted me to, I came from a predominately white town so I guess Imust not be Black.
However, some folks who were white made me fully aware of my Blackness.
This is why, to this day, it still strikes me when Black girls do not want to support other Black girls. I mean, I get it. You are not going to like everybody. But society has already taken the Black woman’s body, coerced others to see it as irregular and grotesque, created an idea for communities to see it as animalistic and aggressive, all while continuously sexualizing it. Black women’s’ bodies are already being compared to what is seen as beautiful– white bodies. However, times are changing. Having traditionally Black features on a lighter skinned woman tends to be more attractive currently. If people are already comparing us to White women, why can’t us Black women just love each other? Love each others looks, each others talents, and each others successes.
When I see any Black girl making moves, winning awards, starting her own business, getting a promotion, I am standing bright-eyed and loud-mouthed screaming for her because she is making history.
If the world is already breaking down Black women, why are other Black women joining in?
People tend to forget that we all come from different backgrounds. We grew up in different places, lived through a plethora of different experiences, and those experiences shaped us to act in our own personal ways. Hopefully, we are all fully aware of that. I’m in awe that people are capable of excluding those who do not fit their standard definition of a “Black girl.” We are all focused on being the most “woke” that sometimes we forget about the real issues. We see the police brutality, we understand mass incarceration, we relate with young girls getting pulled out of school for their braids or their gorgeous locs, and on social media we support those who are going through these incidents. We create hashtags, we have protests, we acknowledge their pain, and we all become vulnerable together.
I just hope when people say we are “one,” they mean it. After the protests, the club meetings, and the community conversations. Forget that she acts, “too white” because there’s 100% chance she needs just as much support as you do, a 100% chance she wants to support your goals, your ambitions, your shining future, and there is a 100% chance she is going through the exact same oppression you’re facing.
There is also a 100% chance she wants to fight it with you. Her acting whatever you declare as “white” doesn’t change her skin tone.
Sisterhood isn’t anything without the support and most definitely, without the love—from every sister.
I remember move-in day like it was yesterday. My mom cried the whole hour and half ride there, there was stress oozing from everyone in the car, and I recall how big the Framingham State sign looked when I pulled up. As soon as I saw the sign, I remember thinking back to when this journey had started. I had gone to one information session at my high school, talked to Meri, the admissions recruiter, and scheduled my visit. I went on a tour with my mother, had an amazing tour guide named Gris, and knew this was where I wanted to be: Framingham State University.
A distinct story my mom always likes to tell is that she remembered the exact moment she felt as though I would end up at FSU. She knew this when we were driving away from the school after our tour and she had looked back through her mirror in the car and saw the Framingham State sign getting farther away. She would revisit that sign in her head until I had gotten my acceptance letter in the mail within the following weeks.
I won’t lie; I questioned my capabilities as soon as I got to FSU. How could I not? I was surrounded by white faces and found myself proving myself to a lot of people every day. I was the spokesperson for all of the Black community and although of course, that should upset me, it does… I felt as though I had to be. Not because I owed it to those who were asking, but because it took me a while to understand that maybe these folks I have been in contact with hadn’t learned about these micro-aggressions they were saying day in and day out. I came in as a sociology major because I knew I wanted to fight injustice every single day, but I had forgotten how it starts with the little things: educating those who say hurtful things but they are meaning well. I knew never to blame these people, they were simply just unaware. Being honest, it did upset me in the beginning and to this day, it still does. However, I have chosen to take those feelings and enact change moving forward. Instead of sitting in my anger, why not write about these issues, bring them to the forefront, but also correct those who are standing right in front of me? Although it is not the job of people of color to educate and give people resources, I battled with being a well-behaved woman of color my freshman year but also wanting to help those who needed the push towards understanding inequality, racism, and so many other issues.
No change can be produced if you are remaining comfortable. If you stay silent, you are condoning what is being said.
In the beginning of my first year, I would let small things slide but they would stir inside of me. I would think about them for days and no one around me truly knew what I was handling. If one of my friends at the time had said something pertaining to communities of color, used the term “ghetto,” or whispered the word “B L A C K ” to me as if it was a bad term—I questioned all of those things, mentally. But I did not want to be seen as the First-year who had a “big mouth.” Or again, as the “angry Black woman,” because…typical, right? I wanted to fit in… but why was I choosing to fit in with people who only made me feel bad about myself?
I’m sorry that I do not recall when it clicked, but I remember I had finally had enough. I remember finding the strength in questioning what someone had said outwardly to help them at least think about what they had said, and why it was problematic. “What do you mean when you use the term ghetto? What’s the picture you have in your mind when you say that?” and later, after they said their follow up, I would say, “you know, some people actually live in those low-income communities that you are making seem like a bad thing. Do you think they wanted to struggle like that?” Allowing them to process my answer, maybe they would say something along the lines of “oh I didn’t think of it like that,” or “Okay Tasia! I get it!” With that, I always wanted to ask a follow up question, do you though? Since I am a Black woman, the amount of people who perceived me (and continue to do so) as being aggressive was excessive. Although I was just trying to have a casual conversation, I would hear later people reiterating the story saying that I was aggressive, I was mean, and I was hostile… What did my first year of college do to my confidence? How did it damaged my self-esteem? How did it alter how I saw myself, my Black community, and those who I chose to hang around with?
You choose the energy you want to be around. You actively make that choice every single day. Are you going to be around energy that makes you feel bad about yourself, makes you question if you truly are friends, etc.?
When I had attempted every day to light the fire of knowledge in everyone else, it was me in the end that had been burned. I had realized I needed a new energy. One I could be proud of, one that built me up, one that recognized my capabilities, supported me, and understood what it was like to be a person of color walking in this world. I did not want just the understanding of it; I wanted those around me who felt it with me every single day.
My first year was about chances. Your first year is about risks. I had spent so long believing I should be ashamedof who I was, clubs that focused on POC’s, and talking about these issues. Your first year is not about fitting in it is about speaking out. The value of entering college is that you are meeting a variety of people, shoved into one place, and I promise you, you do not have to like everybody. Ultimately, you should be surrounding yourself with people you truly love and those who truly love you. I understand how hard it is to go to a new environment while being Black. Worrying about what will be said to you, the looks you will get, the demeaning and condescending words you might receive, but at the end of the day you will find people who will believe in you. You have to look, make the effort, step out of your comfort zone, and create a space full of positivity with people who accept you.
But also, ensure that you are accepting you. You are capable. It may take a while to learn that and some days, even in my senior year currently, I am walking the shaky edge of “I can do this” and “am I even made for this?” But when I look back on who I was and who I am now, although still passionate about the things I have been passionate about for years, that has not changed, I have learned not to compete with those around me. I compete with who I was yesterday.