With my most salient identities as a Black woman who was raised Muslim in America, it means everything. It’s paying homage to the women who came before me like Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, Madame CJ Walker, Maya Angelou, Fannie Lou Hamer, Coretta Scott King because I believe without them I wouldn’t have the opportunities I have now. It’s highlighting the influential women of color today like of course Michelle Obama, Oprah Winfrey, Tracee Elllis Ross, Beyoncé but closer to home like my mom, my aunt, my best friends, my cousins, my colleagues, and my college students. Here are four major life lessons I learned as I am becoming the Black woman I am today.
Lesson 1: Love yourself, girl, or nobody will
Growing up as a little Black girl, I always struggled with body image issues because when my mom would dress me, her “pumpkin girl” with chubby cheeks in these outfits that were always too big for me to not draw attention to any curves. In addition to feeling self-consciousness about my weight, I was the Brown skin daughter to a light skin mother who raised me and a dark skin father that was never around. I would hate my tanned darker complexion in the summer and embrace my lighter brown in the winter. I would buy foundation in lighter tones than necessary because to me that’s what beauty was — my mom, light skin. If I were to write a note to my younger self as the person I am today, I would say: “Your size does not define you. A certain weight does not equal confidence. Love every curve and hue that you or your family were ashamed that you have. You are beautiful the way you are. Surround yourself with people who remind you of that.”
Lesson 2: We Are Family… I got all my sisters with me
Being in friendships with Black women is so dope to me. It’s an unspoken agreement entailing that I'll always have your back and you'll always have mine. It’s a sisterhood. In each phase of my life, I found strength in being surrounded by us. In grad school with 3 of my closest friends that I met through the step team, we decided to start something called “Pink Tent,” where we wouldn’t tell anyone else that we were doing it. One of us would host, 2 people would order food/drinks, and one of us would plan the reflection activity. Our struggles turned into strength through the relationship we had with each other. We laughed out loud, cried ugly tears, and hugged closely in this vulnerable space together knowing that we are in a world that sometimes doesn’t allow us to be full authentic selves.
Lesson 3: Turn L's into Lessons
I had times when I didn’t get "that" job or into "that" school — I could not allow my failures to define my destiny. It's often said that when you take ownership of your failures or losses, that's when you will find favor. Or as Chance the Rapper said, "turn all your Ls into Lessons." I always wanted to work at my current job because it was a prestigious private school with institutional values that aligned with my personal values, located in Washington, DC close to family and friends, but there weren't any openings when I was applying out of graduate school so I got another job still doing what I love in the interim. I was able to pick up on skills and previous experiences necessary for me to be hired at the job I wanted. I always said if my dream job had an opening, I would apply. They did and so I did. Everything happens for a reason.
Lesson 4: You don’t owe anyone anything
Growing up in a predominantly white school system and a strict religious household, I felt that I owed people an explanation for everything — from why my daddy never showed up, to how I wear my hair/how I dressed, to how to pronounce my name, to how I defined my family being the youngest of 10, to why I left my first job after 6 months. I've come to adopt an unapologetic attitude and started owning my life's decisions.
Being a Black woman means everything to me. It’s the way that I walk through life. It’s in the way that I think, hear, speak, see, and feel. It dictates how I choose jobs, friendships, romantic relationships. It connects to my interests in travel, mentorship, and health. It’s intentional. It’s the reason why I have something that represents a Black woman in every room of my home. It’s the reason why I listen to Dr. Joy's Therapy For Black Girls podcast, attended Black Girl In Om's wellness class, went to 21Ninety's Summit21 Women of Color Conference, take African Dance classes, see a Black woman therapist, attend weekly Zumba classes by a Black woman instructor, and look forward to the Black women conferences.
There is power in being in a space surrounded by Black women to learn about new things in beauty, wellness, health, education, you name it! It is a shared deep connected experience that can’t be explained because at times we are experiencing the world in similar ways with our differences. As a Black woman, we are so culturally wealthy. Everyone wants to be us. Look at how white girls were trending mad because they weren’t featured in Cardi and City Girl's video, "Twerk". We are sitting on treasure just for being ourselves. Representation is so important because regardless of what stage of life I was in, it always started and ended with a Black woman. I wouldn’t be the person I am today without Black women. PERIODT.
I’ll end here with one of my favorite quotes, “She is clothed with strength and dignity, and she laughs without fear of the future.” Proverbs 31.25. So now that you learned what being a Black woman means to me, I challenge you to think about what does being a Black woman mean to you.
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