Black Panther on Two Continents

I am fortunate. I am fortunate to be in South Africa at the moment and that Black Panther was released only nine days ago before I left the U.S.

I saw it in Michigan on Thursday, February 15 and I saw again in Port Elizabeth SA ten days later; I saw it today. Both viewings were sold out and there were some great similarities between each viewing – the laughter, the appreciation for “colonizer” jokes, and the excitement for whenever the Dora Milaje hopped on screen to fight!

In the US, I celebrated, watched through the eyes of a hopeful African-American, sitting alongside many Black people who enjoyed it just as I did. It was a community event! As the film paced on perfectly, I thought of my journey to South Africa. Would I have the same joy similar to that of T’Challa when he proclaimed “This never gets old.” as he passed through the cloaking shield? Would I be welcomed? Would I smile as he smiled and would others smile back at me like Shuri, Okoye, his mother Ramonda as he walked off the Vibranium Bugatti Spaceship? I walked out smiling ear to ear, proud of what I just witness and joyful for what was to come for me, so sure of what this journey would mean to me.

Like with many aspects of life, things are not as simple as they might seem and my journey has been much more complex. There have been joyful moments and celebrations while here, but there have also been moments of pain and heartbreak.

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In Port Elizabeth, I waited in a long line, decided to buy the ticket on my phone while waiting, and luckily, I purchased the last ticket. As soon as I received the confirmation email, the manager walked over to the cashiers and put up a “sold-out sign” over the Black Panther poster. I found my seat as the opening played. I was more excited to see it here than in the states for a variety of reasons, the most important being that this film seemed to mirror part of my story – born in the United States and traveling to Africa for the first time in my life.

As I sat there, I watched as an American, no more African than before. No less an outsider looking in, looking for a sense of belonging. Here, I watched through the eyes of Killmonger, with pain in my heart and frustration in my bones. Aching to know why Black People, and many people of color, suffer so much more than the rest of the world. Aching to find a solution, a way to deal with the rage and pain all the same.

As I watched Black Panther the second time, memories flashed through my eyes. “There’s about two billion people out there that could use your help.” (Semi-direct quote). Here in Port Elizabeth, I had the opportunity to visit a nearby “unofficial” settlement, Missionvale, a township community with more than 130,000 people unemployed, living in small homes, and experiencing a much harder life than I will ever know. All the while, “tourists (myself included)” ride through in a Mercedes Benz chartered bus and walk through a small community center taking photos of and selfies with “poor black children.” Infuriated by this, I lingered toward the back of the group silently. I was fortunate to steal a smile from a group of young children in green and orange school uniforms, who played with unending joy despite their circumstances. Three students double dutched, a small group of boys played their version of rugby, and I listened to two young girls read to each other on a bench, trading a printed book back and forth with short sentences on it. “Mom likes our house.” “Dad likes our house.”

I took no photos. I had not earned the right to plunder their community for my own gain. I wished not to steal anything more than the memories that were made by being present.

In that moment I saw my own community, which revealed to me a much deeper pain than I ever thought possible. One of the fellow conference goers, pulled me back and whispered, “Is this the liberation of South Africa?” It broke my heart. All I could think about was how little I’ve done to serve my own home, Detroit. “Is this the liberation of Detroit?” What can be done? What can I do? What can I give? How can I support what is already happening for the good of local people? How can we ensure that the people who suffer most still see themselves as valuable, as significant, as worthy of the beautiful humanity they already possess, when life has told them they are none of those things and less than human. How can I hold a mirror so they see themselves as whole people, as capable, as having something to offer, as having hope. In the small children, I saw hope, the innocence of having not be broken by the world. In the adults, I saw Kilmonger, hurting, angry, uncertain of how to change things for themselves, but willing to try anything.

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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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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.

Growing Pains 11: Tipping Point

“To be unfukwitable: to vibrate at the frequency of evolution, to be free, so far North, that you are able to restore your wholeness, to feel safe within yourself; to move calmly at the center of hurricanes.” – On Becoming, Sherina Rodriguez Sharpe

My hurricanes took the form of earthquakes. After graduation, I worked for an organization in Detroit that focused on using your interests and passions to participate in project-based learning. The relationships I gained from the work would transform my life. In meeting good people, I would learn to heal myself and crack open the parts of me that still needed healing. I began to learn what it meant to be black, what it means to be black for myself and for others. I would learn how to change through Sherina’s art, On Becoming, which is a one woman performance that invites participants to engage as contributors. The final quake came like a 9.0 on the Richter Scale. Any semblance of what I used to believe about myself was about to crumble.

“To be unfukwitable: to vibrate at the frequency of evolution, to be free, so far North, that you are able to restore your wholeness, to feel safe within yourself; to move calmly at the center of hurricanes.” – On Becoming, Sherina Rodriguez Sharpe

Blackness is not, I repeat, IS NOT (for the people in the back), a monolith or a singular way of being & existing in the world. We are a mosaic of beautiful people and abilities and interests and skills and genius and creativity and power and identities and complexity and life. I hadn’t fully understood this idea yet – the whole not black enough idea still ran through my mind. I was about to get some insight. As I sat in the crowd as both audience member and participant, I was invited to see all the parts of me. I was invited to work on myself. I was invited to trade my two-way glass for mirrors. I was invited to change. I was given an example of how to change from start to finish. It was time to “get free”. I was heading north.

“To be unfukwitable: to vibrate at the frequency of evolution, to be free, so far North, that you are able to restore your wholeness, to feel safe within yourself; to move calmly at the center of hurricanes.”

In her example, Sherina gave me insights on how to heal, on how to change, and on how to reconcile the relationships that might otherwise be severed. I had to go through and not around, nor under or over. I needed to be honest. I needed to be open. I needed to be authentic. I needed to accept how I viewed myself and others, as well as how others saw me. I chased after it and I’ve been finding it ever since. I was beginning to change. I was becoming whole.

“To be unfukwitable: to vibrate at the frequency of evolution, to be free, so far North, that you are able to restore your wholeness, to feel safe within yourself; to move calmly at the center of hurricanes.”

*Special thanks to Sherina for carving a path out for herself and showing others how to carve their own.

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 #12: Reflections will be up and ready for your reading.

Growing Pains 10: Resentment

There were tremors. From “creative” spirals (me just procrastinating) to questions from the people who know me best. During one of the creative spirals, I found a poem, by Daniel Beaty, a playwright, poet, and all around talented performer. The poem, Duality Duel, personified how I viewed myself and how I viewed black people. Beaty goes on to have a conversation between two parts of himself – one characterized as scholarly and clean cut, while the other is cold and hardened by life. Beaty held up the mirror. His performance showed me parts of myself that I wanted to suppress or avoid. It showed me my blackness in the context of community.


“Now the time has come for you to pay yo dues. Because these little n*ggas in the street, they need you. But they think they can’t relate because you act all removed. But the TRUTH IS NERD, WHAT THEY ARE IS YOU. Cuz no matter how hard you try to deny the way you think, talk and feel, yo daddy still smoke heroine, yo brother still on crack, ghetto nightmares still haunt your dreams, and ya momma is still black. I ain’t sayin you gotta become me, but this one thing is true. Inside you is a hard ass n*gga you gotta let come through. Cuz this assimilating bullshit will surely beat you down, and if you choke me long enough, my nerd, I will not stick around. Put the strut back in your walk. Say what you really feel. BE ALL OF YOU FOR ALL OF US TO HEAL! The time for lying and denying is through, it’s time nerd journey to the n*gga in you!” – Duality Duel, Daniel Beaty (An excerpt – click the link for the full poem)


I resented myself for having negative feelings and beliefs about the black community. I used to resent the people around me. I’d come to resent myself. How do I back pedal without it being perceived as inauthentic? How can I now be supportive of blackness? How do I fit into the black community? What does it mean to be black? What does it mean to be black in different communities? What parts of myself do I still have to uncover? How do I become all of myself?

Slowly but surely the weight of my guilt, my lack of understanding, and desire to change would give way to lessons learned and new perspective. The process to change was honest, painful, uncomfortable, and most of all, NECESSARY. I needed to change. I reached a tipping point. I needed to learn how to move forward.

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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 #11: Tipping Point will be up and ready for your reading.

Growing Pains #9: Space & The Escape

Solitude. Reflection. Silence. Empty Space. I crave it. I need it. I can’t operate without it. I attribute this to the way my mind works, but also always having people around as a child. I can’t process information in overstimulating environments. In crowded spaces, I check out. In busy or loud environments, I’m unfocused or hyper-focused on one thing. In moments characterized by loud sounds, lots of people, and conversation, I just take in all the information, noise, and movement around me or I take in none of it. I need empty space to find clarity. Sometimes, I even need to be outside because some spaces aren’t large enough. I need the entire sky to fill my thoughts.

The summer after sophomore year, I got all the solitude and silence I needed, two months worth of it. Not total solitude for two months, but I spent more time alone than I did with people. It may be my favorite summer. It was the perfect time to “restart” my life. I had time to grieve, process, learn, make sense of, and understand all that I had gone through and was going through. I just needed to stop creating distractions. I know myself very well now, but at that time I knew nothing about myself. I saw no reflections. I wasn’t trying to see any.

I learned the most important lesson about myself that summer. I learned how to learn about myself. It was a know thy self type of situation. I needed to learn how to be authentic. I went inward. I learned how to ask myself questions that I needed answers to, but may not have wanted. I learned how to be honest with myself about everything. I recognized myself for the first time and I was just lost. I was a black man (still a teenager at the time) who had grown to outwardly hate and avoid anyone who looked like me, thus hating myself. Feeling guilty and unsure of what to do next, I saw my reflection for the first time.

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When I had the space to think about it, I started to notice my behaviors. My unconscious actions that distanced me from other black people. I noticed that my unresolved frustrations and biases influenced how I built relationships. I spent what felt like all my life separating myself from other black people – intellectually, socially, emotionally, psychologically. I found ways to not see the mirror. The reflections were always present, but I chose not to see them. This was the first time I was seeing myself as a black man. How could I possible come clean about this? Who can I tell? How will they feel? What do I do now? What does it mean to be black? These questions left me wanting, but paralyzed by guilt and uncertainty. Critical reflection started me on a path toward self-love, but I’d need a few earthquakes to shake the path so I would move forward.

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 #10: Resentment will be up and ready for your reading.

 

Growing Pains #8 – Where Do I Fit?

When I think about my life, I think about moments in time. I call the significant moments pillars in time. Sophomore year was a life defining year, it was a pillar in time that would hold up the Parthenon that is my life. I wrestled with so many emotions – grief, fear, anxiety, success, loneliness, pain heartbreak, joy, excitement, anticipation, shame, calmness, emptiness. My life felt like a Greek Tragedy. I had three family members pass away in just under a year and a half. A cousin. An uncle. A grandfather. I am a first generation student so I was feeling the pressure to succeed. I still wrestled with being black and what that meant. The year was weighing on me. I needed support. I needed community.

I was fortunate enough to be part of two scholarship cohorts. I was automatically part of a community because of the two programs. I was a Leader Advancement Scholar (LAS) and a Multicultural Advancement and Cofer scholar (MAC). Each of these programs were different. They were made up of different people, targeted different communities, and focused on different experiences. In LAS, the cohort was comprised of mostly white students. In MAC, the cohort included various races and ethnicities, but I would say that it was primarily made up of black students.

With all that carried over from K-12 and life before college, I found myself spending more time with LAS than MAC. I lived in Troutman with MAC scholars, but you wouldn’t have known that. I spent nearly every day of the first year in Barnes with LAS kids, and I moved out of Troutman my second year. I sought out to build deeper connections with LAS students because I hadn’t been shown any mirrors. I didn’t see myself in the MAC scholars’ cohort. I saw myself in LAS.

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I was hypercritical of the MAC scholars program. I took every opportunity to shine light on any fault or annoyance that I found with the program. I’d complain with other scholars. The meetings ran long. The AV didn’t work. This event felt like a waste of time. In hindsight, those events were so important, especially as I clarified my values and began to understand what I wanted to do with my life. (I apologize to anyone who had to deal with that). I didn’t realize it in the moment, and by the end of sophomore year, I left the MAC scholars program and almost left Central.

All year long, I suppressed the pressures of life. I finished the year and spent most of the summer alone in Mt. Pleasant. I had time to learn about myself and “deal” with everything that was slowly crushing me. It was meditative and rejuvenating. I had time to think. Time to be still. Time to just figure things out. That was really when things started to change for me. With emptiness all around me, I had time to find the mirrors. I had time to see my reflection with clear eyes. All the stimulation was gone. All the distractions were silenced. I was finding my fit, and it was inside rather than out.

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 #9: Space will be up and ready for your reading.