My Old Friend

Welcome to Port Elizabeth, Nelson Mandela Bay, the Eastern Cape, and the Indian Ocean.

I am welcomed by my oldest friend, the sea. When I arrived in Port Elizabeth, I found myself deciding between getting food and getting to the ocean. I chose the latter – though I felt compelled to find it. This isn’t the first time I’ve written about the ocean, but something was different about this draw. I felt that I’d find something there that I hadn’t before. Drawn by the subtle, distant sound of crashing waves and the smell of salty air, I knew I was close… how close, I had no idea. I walked over hills, down sand dunes, and through a plank wood pathway and made it to the beach.

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Between me and the water stood a wall of plant life, a line of sand, and a rocky beach. How different and familiar this all felt. How lucky was I to skip lunch and spend the afternoon alone on the beach? There was not a person around for the few miles that the beach ran. My old friend welcomed me home like I had only been away for a little while. Solitude has always been a great friend, he’s allowed me to reflect, give me peace learn deeply, look at myself in an honest way. In a similar way, the ocean has given me the same – moments of pause, quiet time to learn and heal, a mysterious and vast place to match my imagination and hope for this world… a place to be an idealist… a place to restore my heart from a broken world. To me, this was my care. This was me taking care of me.

Self-Care, both mental and physical health is very much in the public eye in many places at the moment. Not everyone is afforded the opportunity to take these moments of pause or even to leave the town or city in which they live, but we must do more to give each other peace where we are… to give each other moments of pause and the freedom to take care of ourselves. For so long, I asked myself “when will I find peace?” Today, I’ve chosen to ask myself a different question, “where can I create peace?” It’s only been a few days, but this respite from “real life” has given me a great deal of insight about who I am and who I want to become, but more importantly, it’s placed others at the forefront of my mind. Where can I create peace? How can I give others moments of rest? How can I offer joy to others or celebrated with them the joy the already possess? Though I may find answers, I am now more interested in the questions that will come from this experience. “With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world.” – Desiderata, Max Ehrmann

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How Interesting?

“How interesting?” is the question that came to mind after allowing my hopeful anticipation build over the last few weeks and finally arriving here in South Africa.

I idealized my arrival, each time coming closer and closer to tears because this journey is a “homecoming” of sorts. In my last post, I referenced my ability to connect far back in my family history, but still a gap existed between my great-great grandmother and whatever tribe and country our ancestors were birthed into. Leading up to this moment, there was a distinct “maybe this will be the moment when all the emptiness washes away.”

It wasn’t (lol @ myself), but I did have a few more interesting realizations as a result of being here, arriving here, and simply asking questions and observing.

Number 1: This was less of a realization but more of a “well of course” moment. There’s a stark poverty gap, a great distance between those who are served and those who serve, between those who have and those who have not. Much of this has to do with Apartheid colonization, and corruption. My hope gave me rose tented eyes from which to see through before arriving. This caused the separation between social groups to feel more pronounced. It was as if I had arrived back in Downtown Detroit, bustling with surbranites who can, and most often do, come and go as they please to be served by persons of color, who most often can’t afford (time or money) to participate whatever the activity is. There’s a more nuanced conversation to be had about this specific topic so don’t get lost in the details yet. We’ll save it for another post. It’s not all good and it’s not all bad for the people who need some closer on this point.

Number 2: My Uber driver, “Evans” gave me some real insight into the local culture and insight into his live. Evans is from Zimbabwe and he talked about how even though the economy dipped and has struggled due to a lack of eco-tourism, it was still a safe place, a place that he loved and would go back to given the chance to have economic stability again. He talked about his family in a way that I would talk about mine. We shared a laugh over how similar our families and communities are. We talked about joy despite difficulty. We talked about resilience and shared happiness and pride. Our conversation reduced my need to connect with a specific place. I’d rather connect with the people.

Number 3: This one is more of a few happy accidents that occurred along the way. 1. My Airbnb host have two dogs, that are super friendly. There’s a small garden attached to their home and I spent a little while reading out there today just to enjoy the warm summer and cool breeze. 2. I’m having dinner in Johannesburg with a family that I met on the plane before I head back to the US. They are visiting South Africa to celebrate their Mother/Grandmother’s birthday.

Number 4 (Maybe the most important): I’ve given up my idealized view that solely arriving at a place can restore your wholeness. I’ve gained the pride of seeing myself as someone who is celebrated and welcomed and appreciated for his blackness on a large scale. The level of joy I saw of sooo many black and brown faces only made me smile harder and harder throughout the day. Children playing soccer, teenagers dancing in the street and laughing with each other, grandmothers and matriarchs bursting with pride at the sight of their families all together at dinner. Today reminded me of our shared humanity, the humanity we are so often not afforded by others. No one can steal that from me.

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Will this feel like home?

This trip feels different. I’ve traveled to around the USA a bit, I’ve seen a few countries in Europe, but this one feels different. It feels heavier.

This journey, I imagine, will become a pillar in time for me – a moment that will forever be etched in my mind as a doorway back to something I lost generations ago. Many of you may have heard the narrative, become desensitized to it, and are maybe even tired of hearing about it. Slavery, Racism, Apartheid, Violence, Stolen Bodies, Broken Families, Erasure of Culture and Life. There is no path back to my historical roots beyond the connection I have to slavery. The idea of no connection or place of origin occupies such a large space in my mind. Some might believe it shouldn’t matter this much, but it does. My great-great grandmother, who I knew for several years, was one generation removed from slavery. I remember conversations with her and the closeness I felt to her – her powerful, yet calm voice, her tender but protective tones, her resolute strength and also her exhaustion. Her father was the son of a slaveowner.

This experience, this monumental moment to even fathom that there is some tie to Africa as a whole is earthshaking to me. The desire to see home as a place and a people pushes me to tears whenever I contemplate the moment that the plane touches down. I’ve reflected for weeks on how to put into words what landing in, setting foot on, and simply being in Africa will mean to me. I’m speaking of the diverse and rich continent – I’ll get to South Africa in a moment. I believe every Black person in the United States should have the opportunity to visit the continent, or wherever their true north points.

I’ve listened to and read stories of how “we” are descendants of kings and queens and yet much of our collective “life” here and other places has been defined by suffering and struggling and resilience and pain. I’ve searched for, and found, stories that champion our heritage, highlight our contributions to the world, and recognize and admire our beauty. Even I had to unlearn the lies I believed about my people. Even now, I am unlearning what I was socialized to believe, intentionally or unintentionally. Even now, I take responsibility for the change I want for myself.

As I wrestle with the memories and experiences and beliefs I’ve held, and unconsciously still hold, I know that this experience will be one that cracks open the last wall that I’ve built up to see my blackness as empty, and the rivers, waterfalls, and oceans will pour into me as though I cannot be filled and they will pour and pour and pour until I see my own reflection as beautiful as powerful as complex and as deeply human, deserving of every human right and dignities that should be afforded to all people. My blackness will no longer be equated with only fear and pain and worry and preoccupation and stress and anxiety and suffering. I will be all of myself, joyful, happy, passionate, intelligent, caring, human, vulnerable, hopeful, realistic, and much much more. I will acknowledge and appreciate the humanity of all other black people.

This confirmation that there is a place from which I originate is heavy, emotional, powerful, and still uncertain, especially because my journey takes me to South Africa, a place plagued by its own violences and vices, a place with its own heroes and champions, a place with its own complex history and challenges. I can say with certainty that I am open to the possibilities of what this could mean for me and many others. I’m open to how my perspective might change or how I’ll change after this experience. I’m hopeful that there is some remnant or lingering air of connection to those few hundred years ago and the experiences of the South African people less than a century ago. If I can’t have that, I will at the very least have Wakanda Forever.

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Robinhood – Learning To Invest

If you’re like me, you’ve got lots of questions about investing, financial literacy, mutual funds, 401ks, 403bs, IRAs, Savings Accounts, CDs, financial institutions, and so many other money matters. I’ll preface with this – I am no expert and you should do more research on the subject.

With that being said, here’s a few things I’ve learned over the last 4 months from using an app called Robinhood. Robinhood is an investment app that allows you to buy and sell stock and they make it ridiculously simple. In oversimplified terms, it’s a playground that allows you to learn how investing works while actually investing. I started using the app with $50. I bought two shared of Kroger Stock for about $20 a piece, which left me with about $10 of buying power. When payday came around, I added $50 more dollars and bought three more shares. All in all, my portfolio (collection of stocks) was not diversified (different stocks), but it was doing pretty well well. My initial investment of $100 turned into $105 dollars over two weeks. My investment amount increased because the stock price increased. For me, investing is about the long game and not immediate results.

After reading that sentence you may be thinking, “you only made five dollars in two weeks? Why are you giving me financial advice?” I’ll put it this way – each share I owned increased in value by one dollar (Not all stock will increase this much or this quickly, if at all. You have to research the trends and decide if you want to keep the stock for the long-term or the short-term). If I owned 50 shares, my total dollar amount would have increased to $150 in two weeks. Without doing anything more than spending a few bucks on the front end, I would have made $50, which would be half of my initial investment. If you make an extra $50 every two weeks, that becomes $1300 over the course of the year. If you keep that same pacing, over 10 years, that becomes $13,000. In 30 years, it becomes 39,000. No imagine doing that with 5 different stocks. You’d be looking at $195,000. For me, that’d be a $195,000 of income from investments alone by the time I was 55. This doesn’t include a retirement fund, salary from a job, or other streams of income.

As your stock matures, you get a dividend, which is a payment for owning the stock. Another example: I own a few shares of Texas Instrument. Remember the $99 dollar TI-83 Calculator that was needed for every math class you ever took? That company. It paid dividends a few weeks ago, and it was something like $6.28, but that dividend wasn’t an increase in the value of the stock. It was payment for owning part of the company (a small part, but part nonetheless). That was money paid to me as an owner.

I’ll be very clear. You are using real money that you could potentially lose, but that’s when you determine how much risk you can handle. All the stocks, I own have low volatility, which basically means that they don’t fluctuate, or go up and down, all that much. You have to actively check on things. I tend to look an hour after the market opens in the morning around 10:30, between noon and one on my lunch break, and then again around 3pm before the market closes. Setting those standard times keeps me from checking constantly throughout the day.

Bullet Points:

  • You’re using real money.
  • You can start with any amount on Robinhood.
  • Do your research.
  • Start with a small amount to get used to it.
  • At first, you’ll feel a little nervous, but eventually you get used to looking at it.

 

A Hope for 25

“25 seems young, but important.” – Evelyn Lauer

Turning 25 feels like a beginning. What are the clichés? Turing a new page. Starting a new chapter. I don’t know if it should feel as big as it does, but quite frankly it feels like it should be an important time in my life. When you’re five or six years old, meeting someone in their 20s felt like meeting someone who had been alive forever. You think, that’s so far away. I’ll never get to that point. I’ll be young forever. Then you wake up at 25 and realize just how ridiculous that notion was.

I find myself feeling a variety of things – excitement, joy, nostalgia, hopefulness, uncertainty, pride, and gratitude are among the few emotions that come to mind. The last 24 years have been full of experiences. I’ve traveled a little bit. I’ve gotten a few degrees. More important than both of those things, I’ve made some really important relationships and I’ve started going after my dreams. I’ve learned that the people are just as important as the experiences. In thinking about what I’ve experienced, all I can say is that I want more. 

Let me clarify. My curiosity is at an all-time high right now, which means that I have to be particular about how I spend my time. I’ve read a few books and a lot of blogs about the 20s, and how they are supposed to be building or learning years. So far, that’s exactly what they’ve been for me and I want it to stay that way. I want to go more places. I want to meet more people. I want to learn more. I want to learn so much about what I want in a career. I want to learn more about myself. I want to set more goals and achieve them. I want to learn more from my failures and mistakes. I want to spend more quality time with the people I care about. I want more time to clarify what I want more of. I want to become more disciplined. I want more opportunities to give something good to the world. I want to build toward contentment and satisfaction. 

In the same right, I want less. I want less external pressure to do things traditionally, conventionally, or within the “perceived” timeline of others. I want less stress. I want less laziness from myself. I want less fear. I want less wasted time. I want less baggage. I want less drama and unnecessary worry. I want less violence in the world, less suffering.

I’m fortunate to be in a position to get most of the things I want out of life at this point in time. With the tremendous support of others, I’ve laid a solid foundation from which to launch. So, here’s to the big 2-5 and all that’s coming with it.

An affirmation of the five things I want for myself beginning at 25:

  • Deeper, more meaningful relationships w/family, friends, and Maggie (in no particular order lol) 
  • A better quality of life (physical & mental health, meaningful experiences, quality time spent in new places, financial security, and pursuit of new learning opportunities)
  • A commitment to service, travel, and generosity with time, skills, and resources
  • Contributing to the betterment of humanity through work, word, and collaboration
  • Exploration and personal growth

 

Growing Pains #16: And Beyond

Well… All is well that ends well.

If you’ve read this far, you have had a pretty intimate, authentic look into my life. Truly, thank you for journeying with me along the way. Sharing part of myself that I thought I would never share has been restorative to my spirit and passion.  I am both honored by and grateful for everyone that has read even one post.

I have a group of friends that I hold very dear to me. Each one knows who they are. No matter where we go, what we do, or how little we may see or talk to each other, we know that there is an “and beyond” that propels us deeper into friendship. I think about all the people who have help guide and shape my life – family, friends, barbers, mentors,  past teachers and coaches, passing strangers, and fellow travelers. I’ve learned a great deal from you all. Each of you has been a mirror. Each of you has in some way reflected exactly what I needed to see at the time I needed to see it.

After 24 years, countless experiences, a revolutionary change in myself, and 15 blogs, I am free to say that I love myself, I am earnestly seeking a more authentic self each day, and I invite others to love themselves as well. Regardless of what the world shows you, tells you, or thinks of you, you are significant, you matter, you have something to contribute, you deserve to feel whole. With a full heart and a peaceful mind, thank you for growing with me.

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Growing Pains #15: Authenticity

“I Pledge allegiance to myself…” “…I became the country I deserve.” – Chace Morris (Mic Write – Link to Music Video)

If you’ve made it this far, you know parts of my journey are dark, hazy, and uncomfortable to read about or even experience. Other parts are lighthearted, positive, and characterized by persistence and tenacity. That doesn’t mean my journey is over.

You see, I’ve gone from seeing the world as isolating and having no place for me to a person with a great confidence and ownership of nearly all parts of myself. (The work continues). I am constantly learning how to be my most authentic self. As I learn more of what I want, I seek that out and I let my curiosity guide me. It sounds deeply selfish and to some degree it is. I am trying to become the best version of myself, and I’m doing that for me and the people I care about. I’m learning about myself so I can give someone meaningful to the world. I want others to do the same. I compel others to do the same, but I have no qualms if they don’t. You get to choose – and that choice is not free of consequences or rewards. I am who I am and I believe I will continue to learn more of what that means.

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I pledge allegiance to myself and all that means – It means prioritizing what is important to me – caring for self, caring for others, building relationships, creating opportunities for others and taking advantage of my own, being creative, seeing the good in the world while staring evil in its face with honest eyes, giving love and positivity to the world and recognizing that my reality is not the same for others, recognizing my privilege and power and using it to lift others up alongside me and even higher, giving a damn about making this world better for others, while also living out my dreams and plans.

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I became the country I deserved – one that communicates the value of black people and blackness to himself and others. A country that advocates on behalf of all marginalized people because I know what it feels to believe you have no value in the world and to live in a world that tells you that you have no value. I became a country that is aware of the fact that some people suffer more than others and need more support that others. A country of equity and equality. A country that is complex and full of human qualities. A country that does make mistakes, but seeks to learn how to be better. A country that is full of love and joy and frustration and hope. A country that honors himself and respects his brothers and sisters. A country that is compelled to challenge, breakdown, dissect, and replace any and all broken systems that has “evolved no place” for him and others. A country that enjoys the things he enjoys with no guilt or shame or care of what others think (well maybe care for what the 5-15 really important people in my life think – I love yall, but some of yall opinions don’t matter that much because of the context in which it’s being shared. I don’t know everything about everything and neither do you – let’s keep it 100).

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Something about Know They Self – Learn about yourself – What do you want? What is taking your energy? What is giving you energy? When are you at your best? When are you at your worst? Who are the people that enrich your life? Who are the people that take from it? What is important to you? What do you want to prioritize, but feel bad about prioritizing? Who are you? Every few months, I ask myself a similar list of questions – I do so to see if I’ve changed, and most often how I’ve changed. Am I being true to myself? How does being true to myself make me a better person to be around? How does being authentic leave room for others to be authentic as well? Am I who I want to be right now, and is that leading toward were I want to be in the future?

Become the country you deserve. I’m working on it too.

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Tomorrow the series ends! The Growing Pains series will continue each day until the full story is shared. It is an honest look at how socialization, poverty, changing circumstances, and perceptions influenced me to hate myself, my skill, and my community, but ultimately how authentic relationships, challenging questions, and a deep look inside helped me learn to love myself and love my people. You see I’m black and I love it, but that wasn’t always the case. Check tomorrow for the next chapterGrowing Pains #16: And Beyond will be up and ready for your reading.

Growing Pains #14: Curiosity

” I got, I got, I got, I got loyalty, got royalty inside my DNA.” – Kendrick Lamar

My passion for learning and having unique experiences has led me to some interesting places. Most importantly though, I’ve searched for the feeling of “home” for quite some time. In fact, it was something that claimed my attention until the summer of 2016. I’ve been fortunate to travel abroad a few times and build relationships with people from different pockets of the world. I traveled out of excitement and curiosity, but also because I was searching.

I spent the start of 2016 in Ireland. My friend Rachel and I decided to go to Ireland and parts of the UK and we ended up in Dublin for New Years. On one of our other days of traveling we decided to go out with some people from our hostel and we ended up meeting up with people from Montreal (Canada) and Geneva (Switzerland). We ended up walking back to our hostel with our new friends. We found out that they were both engineers on vacation and that they went to grad school together.

Grego, from Geneva but working in Burkina Faso, asked, “Where are you from?” I said the United States, and after recognizing confusion on his face, I asked did if he meant something else. He changed his question. “No, no, what is your origin?” He was speaking of my ethnicity. He was curious about my heritage, which sparked my curiosity as well. He had seen my features before, but not my complexion. He also displayed genuine curiosity when asking. My family always talked about our Black, Native American, and Irish roots, but I never really looked too much into it. His question prompted a mini-identity crisis, but in a positive way. I just gave a generic response, but that question stuck with me. What is your origin? (PS. It’s definitely a United States norm to explain your genetic make up to other people.)

The question carried me into this year. I decided to try the Ancestry DNA kit. I sent the package in and eagerly awaited the results. What is my origin? Where do I come from? One of the common statements that prominent black people in the US frequently use is that “we don’t know where we come from.” Because of slavery, we don’t have a definitive place to point back to and say “I am from X and this is My Culture.”

The day came when I received the email, and I would discover the direction in which I could travel to learn about my heritage. I take great pride in family heritage, generational stories, lessons, and ties to the past, but this gave me a place on a map, well a few places. I intend to visit most, if not all these places. I discovered my origin and no I’m curious to learn about the cultures and histories so I can better understand myself and the world.

My curiosity is at an all time high right now. I’ve loved learning all my life, but right now I have more access than I’ve ever had before. I have time and resources to have new experiences. I am in the mindset that possibilities are endless and that I can become more and more myself each day by peeling that the curtains back one by one. It is a privilege to have time and freedom to seek these things out. There are so many who don’t have that luxury, which is why I’m also compelled to make a better world for others through my work. I am living my best life right now, and it is only the beginning. The relationships, interests, jobs, and opportunities have aligned and continue to align in such a way that I get to do all that I want to do, which isn’t me saying that I can go and do anything I want. But instead, saying that I can choose. I can say no to the things I don’t want and yes to what I do want. I’ve found direction, but most of all, I’ve found home, in myself.

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The Growing Pains series will continue each day until the full story is shared. It is an honest look at how socialization, poverty, changing circumstances, and perceptions influenced me to hate myself, my skill, and my community, but ultimately how authentic relationships, challenging questions, and a deep look inside helped me learn to love myself and love my people. You see I’m black and I love it, but that wasn’t always the case. Check tomorrow for the next chapter – Growing Pains #15: Authenticity will be up and ready for your reading.

Growing Pains #13: Mirrors

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There is no “right” way to be black, but because of how culture works, there are similar or shared experiences. Being a member of the culture and seeing myself as different caused me to reject some ways of displaying culture norms and widely accepted behaviors. Trying my hand at archery, being a gymnast, camping (which I’m still not sold on, but I’ll do because I love spending time with my friends), and a variety of other things are examples of “non-normal black people activities” (Stereotype).

My context has most often been US-based so my perspective is influenced by the culture in the United States. Consciously and unconsciously, I received information about what it meant to be black in the world from all sides. From how to speak and dress to the types of lives we “lead” and what we’ll be successful at. I needed to find representation. I needed to unlearn the stereotypes I, myself, held about blackness and black people, while also being true to myself. I needed to find present-day mirrors that reflected me back at me, while I worked to embrace blackness as a whole so not to exclude others.

I found a treasure trove of artists, friends, family, peers, icons, people larger than life and historic figures that transcended generations. I think of Donald Glover who is as creative as it gets. He continues to dive deeper into the work that inspires him, while also addressing issues affecting black communities through shows like Atlanta. I think of Andre 3000 who challenged the notion of black masculinity, while giving us great music and meaningful messages. I think of rap music and all its form. I think of Ava DuVernay who’s given us amazing films and commentary on issues that affect our people generation after generation. I think of Michelle Obama, and the grace and commitment she shows through her health and women’s initiatives. I think of where I was when Barak Obama was first elected. I think (often) of James Baldwin, who shared the feelings of wanting to leave or escape the US, but ultimately felt compelled to come back. (In some places around the world, the grass is actually greener for black people.)

I think of Nikki Giovanni who said “If you don’t understand yourself, you don’t understand anybody else.” I think of Ta-Nehisi Coates who discussed stolen moments created by fear as he explored Paris with a new friend he thought might bring him to harm because of what he experienced growing up in Baltimore. I think of Chadwick Boseman, John Boyega, and Idris Elba as the superheroes I looked for in all my Saturday morning cartoons. I think of my parents, black barbershops, family, laughter, creativity, travel, fellowship, and community.

I found mirror after mirror, all of different shapes and sizes and colors. I was seeing myself in my community. I learned that it’s not how you show up, but rather showing up at all and being authentic. A lesson learned early on, but later forgotten and learned again later, is that people just want you to be real. No two-way glass. No distorted funhouse mirrors. Just a mirror that might hold a reflection from time to time.

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The Growing Pains series will continue each day until the full story is shared. It is an honest look at how socialization, poverty, changing circumstances, and perceptions influenced me to hate myself, my skill, and my community, but ultimately how authentic relationships, challenging questions, and a deep look inside helped me learn to love myself and love my people. You see I’m black and I love it, but that wasn’t always the case. Check tomorrow for the next chapter – Growing Pains #14: Curiosity will be up and ready for your reading.

Growing Pains #12: Reflections (i)

I am black. I own my blackness. I love my blackness. I love your blackness. I see my reflection. I see myself in the black community.  I see my blackness as valuable. I see my blackness as worthy and equally as important as all the other parts of me. I see your blackness as worthy and equally as important as all the other parts of you. I am happy. I am proud. I am thankful. I am who I am and that included my blackness. I reflect that into the world.

“I love myself.” – Kendrick Lamar

“I am my ancestors’ wildest dream.” – Ava Duvernay

The Growing Pains series will continue each day until the full story is shared. It is an honest look at how socialization, poverty, changing circumstances, and perceptions influenced me to hate myself, my skill, and my community, but ultimately how authentic relationships, challenging questions, and a deep look inside helped me learn to love myself and love my people. You see I’m black and I love it, but that wasn’t always the case. Check tomorrow for the next chapter – Growing Pains #13: Mirrors will be up and ready for your reading.