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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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.

 

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 #5: Resentment

Everywhere I turned, I saw someone to blame. Everywhere I turned, I saw someone who looked like me. Everywhere I turned, I pointed the finger. Everywhere I turned I saw no mirrors. Well, there were mirrors… I just didn’t see myself. I didn’t want to see myself.


*Context*

I saw being black as a detriment. I believed being black was a setback. I saw being white, and even non-black, as better. In school. At home. In the activities I participated in. In life. I saw myself as better because I believed I was “non-black”. I was “50%” this, “20%” that. The last thing I was, and most times by default, was black. I would only claim to be black because it was so obvious that I was. I didn’t want to be associated with blackness. I hated that part of my life. The black experience in the United States was, and still is, defined by struggle and suffering. More than that, it seemed like everyone around me was defined by struggle and suffering. You know how tired I was of hearing about and seeing struggling and suffering. You know the type of hopelessness that creates?! It’s all you see. It’s all you hear. It’s all around you. In not owning my blackness, I felt like I didn’t have to deal with it. I was 10 years old and exhausted from life. How does that happen?

Even now, it’s exhausting to always explain to people what’s going on and things like Black Lives Matter or systemic oppression. It’s exhausting to deal with systems that ruin lives everyday.  Eventually, I saw a way out – getting through middle school and high school as soon as possible. – *exhales after getting that out* (Scroll below for content.)


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*Content*

By the time I was in sixth grade, I changed schools five times. There was a cycle. Start over, make a few connections, change schools, start over, make a few connections, start over. My parents just wanted to find the best education for my brother and I, which meant trying schools out and seeing what happened. I just floated through school.

I was part of another environment that seemed to drain imagination and creativity rather than cultivate it. In sixth grade, I was testing two years higher in all subjects and my teacher brought up the discussion to promote me to the eighth grade. I WAS OVERJOYED. It was happening! I’d get to leave sooner than I thought. You can imagine the pride and joy I felt about having this opportunity.

After thinking about it, my parents declined. “I wasn’t socially ready to be in the classroom with eighth graders.” “I was already young for my grade and I wouldn’t be prepared for the changing environments.” I was devastated. I was defeated. I RESENTED THEM more than I ever had before. I couldn’t make lasting connections anywhere. School was failing me. I was fed up. I was a grudge holder. I was so damn tired. They took away the one chance I had to leave it all behind sooner than I anticipated. That chance was gone before I could even blink.

I shut down. I checked out. I didn’t even try. The same feelings of arrogance and disdain toward my peers came back around. My frustration and anger even reached my brother. Kyle and I would’ve been in the same grade. For the longest time, I thought my parents were trying to protect him. I took every opportunity to bring up being promoted publicly to jab at them and remind them that I was angry. I can never apologize enough for how vindictive I was.

*I want to be a parent some day, but it scares me. I can’t thank my parents enough for how they handled me as a child. I honestly don’t know what I would’ve done in this situation. They just loved me through it. In hindsight, they made the absolutely right decision. There are so many things I would’ve missed had I moved on too early.

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 skin, 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 #6: Tipping Point will be up and ready for your reading.

Growing Pains #3: Space (The Beechdale House)

The Beechdale house was in my family for three generations. Decades of family history filled the walls. It is a four bedroom house. My favorite part of the house is the French doors that separated the living room from the dining room. Twenty-eight small windows filled each door. Anytime you entered either room, it felt like a grand entrance had to be made. There are seven stairs from the bottom floor to a landing with two windows that let light in halfway up to the top floor, and eight stairs followed upward after a short turn. The living room had three beautiful bay windows, a fireplace, and enough room for everyone. I loved that house. I didn’t love living in it.

There are plenty of happy moments. Like setting up my mom’s old gymnastics mats to have wrestling matches with my brother and our cousins in the living room or playing hide and seek in the dark with 10 people. Even family dinners at my grandmother’s victorian dining room table were very much enjoyed. Those happy moments will always be a prized possession. They also gave way to some of the pressure and anxiety I felt as a child.

I felt like I was suffocating more and more each day. I couldn’t wait to go in my room and shut the door. I just wanted to be left alone. I just wanted my one space. Everywhere you turned, despite having an immense amount of space, there seemed to be no room for anyone. Throughout my childhood and teenage years someone lived with us –  a cousin, an aunt, a family friend, another cousin… multiple people at the same time. Honestly, the list could go on. I didn’t fully understand the role poverty played in creating these circumstances. I didn’t know people chose between paying rent, buying food, or buying school supplies. I didn’t understand how difficult it must have been to ask for help. I just saw the people taking up space as a burden.

I resented my parents for always welcoming people in. I resented people who seemed to always lean on my parents in a way that took them away from me. At ten years old, I remember breaking down to my dad. We sat in our basement for what felt like hours. He asked over and over again, “What’s wrong? What’s wrong? What’s wrong? Help me understand what you’re feeling. What’s wrong?” Each question landing on my ears the way a sledge hammer lands on a wall being knocked down. I searched for the answer with each question. I clawed deeper and deeper to find nothing. Uncontrollably, I responded “I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t. I don’t know.” With tears pouring down my face “I DON’T KNOW!” I didn’t have the words to communicate what was crushing me. We left that that moment unresolved, hanging over us like a storm cloud. A few weeks later, I went to a few therapy sessions and it helped a lot. All I wanted was my family. (GET HELP IF YOU NEED IT! THERE IS NO SHAME IN TALKING TO SOMEONE.)

Even to this day, I am very selective of who gets to meet my family. The few people who have met my family have done so mostly because of circumstance. It has absolutely nothing to do with me not wanting people I care about to meet my family. It’s more so about privacy and separation. You see, I love people and I learned that from my parents first. The values my parents demonstrated were love, compassion, humility, and dignity for all. Give as people need. The values communicated by their actions became my core values. People are worthy of dignity and respect, regardless of their circumstances. It took so long for me to learn that.

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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 skin, 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 #4: Resentment will be up and ready for your reading.

 

Growing Pains #2: Where Do I Fit?

“It comes as a great shock around the age of five or six or seven to discover that the flag to which you have pledged allegiance, along with everybody else, has not pledged allegiance to you. It comes as a great shock to discover that Gary Cooper killing off the Indians, when you were rooting for Gary Cooper, that the Indians were you. It comes as a great shock to discover that the country which is your birthplace, and to which you owe your life and your identity, has not in its whole system of reality evolved any place for you.” – James Baldwin, novelist, essayist, playwright, poet, and social critic.

Quiet hallways. Cinderblock walls painted white with deep brown stripe painted to divide the top from the bottom. A sea of brown faces. No Mirrors.

I started to notice differences immediately. I couldn’t see myself in the people around me. At St. Mike’s, I couldn’t tell you the ethnic make-up of the class because it didn’t matter. I mean I didn’t know it mattered to me. When I arrived at Thomas Gist, there was a pronounced feeling of difference. I was different. I didn’t see myself as black. I saw everyone around me as black. I was the exception, which is why I was ahead of everyone else. Unconsciously, I thought myself better than others because I was different, and at the time different meant better to me.

I understood this difference to be “black people are less capable of achieving,” which is absolutely not the case. However, there was something more significant that was influencing my perspective – social class. At both St. Mike’s and Thomas Gist, messages of success, brilliance, and imagination were espoused weekly, if not daily. Each teacher communicated that we were all capable students and that we’d one day succeed in reaching our dreams. There was only one difference, a subtle one to a six year old – less resources. Without similar resources and support, I recognized the difference as being the result of the people and not the system around the people.

In unconsciously blaming the people around me, I struggled to make connections with students who were “so different” than me. I didn’t fit. I didn’t know how to build new relationships with other black kids. Martez was my only friend, which was probably a result of him looking like my cousin Josh. For those years, I was very much an outsider and very much alone. I became more introspective and unwilling to interact with others. A quiet second and third grader found himself trying to understand why he felt so alone.

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Martez is in the front row and to the right of me.  He is wearing a gray shirt, black pants, and black/white tie.

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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 skin, 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 #3: Space will be up and ready for your reading.

Growing Pains #1: Bad Genes

Context:

For the past five years, I’ve been reconciling all the hate for myself that compounded over my short lifetime of 24 years. At that point, I was 19 and just starting my journey. Leading up to the middle of Black History Month (February 2017), I found the freedom to tell the story you’re about to begin (There was a long Facebook post). Growing Pains is be a blog series that reflects my personal journey and the semi-universal feelings that came from it. Pain, disappointment, frustration, loneliness, confusion, honesty, compassion, hope, curiosity, love, and peace of mind. My hope is solely to uncover my wounds so that others may see how to heal their own. In sharing this, I aspire to be vulnerable, authentic, humorous, creative, and instructive. Please journey with me from Self-Hate to Self-Love that extends back into a community that has given and still gives me so much joy. I love myself and I love my blackness.

Bad Genes

Bad jeans – I mean bad genes. Sixteen and wishing for color contacts to have the ocean blue eyes like the porcelain skinned girl I had a crush on in the first grade. Five years old, white oxford shirt, smirk, pressed blue pants, Reebok sneakers, Detroit Lions backpack, Hercules folder. I was ready for the first day of first grade at St. Michael’s School, a private school in Southfield, MI. Didn’t even know I was Black. I was a kid trying to figure out which one of the eighth graders was going to push me on the swing set during recess. I was a kid trying to figure out how the Gingerbread Man got from room to room. My mind was bursting open as if the sun was exploding and my imagination was a deep and as wide as the ocean. Day after day there was a new adventure to be had and a new lesson to be learned.

Decades before Arthur memes, I was dressed in a yellow sweater vest and jeans with the fake round glasses on for Arthur Day. We were paleontologists wearing 13-pocket vests looking for fossils in the dirt on Paleontologist Day. We made wax candles on Valentine’s Day after receiving a valentine from every person in the class. On Saturdays, I sat in a rocking chair with a blanket over my legs next to my brother, who sat in a power ranger chair, to watch Saturday morning cartoons while eating a mini bagel with cream cheese and drinking apple juice. I was 85 in a six-year old’s body, assuming that 85 year-olds sit in rocking chairs. Life was good. Life was amazing in fact.

First grade came and went. It was an exciting year full of first crushes, field day, elementary school birthday parties, and the Scholastic Book Fair. Second grade rolled around and I found myself at a new school, Thomas Gist in Inkster, MI. I went from a private school that was predominantly white to a charter school that was predominantly black. My world shook and I didn’t know how to handle it. Making friends at that age was challenging enough, but to change school and communities made it even more difficult. My second-grade head was spinning. I was alone in a new place. I imagine I am introverted by nature, but the next few years reinforced that feeling. I didn’t spend much time in the second-grade class though, because what I had learned in first grade at St. Mike’s, they were just teaching in second grade at Thomas Gist. So, I was placed in Ms. Murphy’s third grade class about a month into the school year. Change after change.

This is where my 6-year-old brain started to rationalize what was going on in my life. I mean rationalize as a process, not as being rational about the situation. I had to make sense of the world around me. My best interpretation was “if this school is predominantly black and I’m a year ahead in every subject, then that must mean that white kids are smarter and because I was around them, I was smarter. I wasn’t very rational at 6-years-old, and I was upset because I missed my old friends and teachers. I wanted things to go back the way they were. I just wanted to go back to St. Mike’s.

First Grad Vince

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 skin, 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 #2: Where Do I Fit? will be up and ready for your reading.