I was a “sellout”, “bougie”, “an Oreo”, a “white girl”, and “stuck up” according to my peers during my childhood. I was always too black for the White children and too white for the Black children. Therefore, I often felt like an outcast with no social group to belong to. I grew up in Montgomery, Alabama, a city known for its dark history of racism and for the affluent work of Martin Luther King Jr. to eradicate the racist practices of the Jim Crow Laws that plagued the south. When I toured the many civil rights museums in Montgomery, I became curious about what social justice was and how I could be an advocate like Rosa Parks, Johnnie Carr, and numerous other courageous women. I wanted to use my experience as an outcast to be the voice for change in my community and to help people to understand their differences. Therefore, I chose to become a social worker not only to help others find their voice but to also become an advocate for social justice for all races and creeds.
I struggled with who I was culturally until I began my matriculation at Clark Atlanta University. I went to predominantly White institutions my entire public school career and most of those were the top schools in the state of Alabama. With the higher standard of education I received, there came a lot of backlash from my peers. My Black peers would tease me for being a nerd or accuse me of “acting white”. In contrast, my white peers looked at me with distaste because I was typically the token Black girl or one of the small fraction of Black students who attended the school. I always had a number of friends of different races, but it was always awkward when I tried to mix my Black and White friends. In high school, I found a group of Black friends who had similar experiences as me. We were all the “awkward, smart Black kids” who were rarely recognized unless it was for being surprisingly exceptional. Most White parents who came to school events always seemed surprised at us being there. I believe that they asked themselves “How did these Black kids get this smart?” or “How and why did they let them in?” Eventually, we created our own heritage club in high school in order to have some sort of representation because my school did not celebrate Black History Month. Therefore, choosing to go to Clark Atlanta, would seem to be a refreshing place to revel in black excellence. However, I was nervous that I was still “too white”. It seems so embarrassing now to think of how terrified I was to be at a school with my own. However, societal pressures had been telling and showing me my entire educational career that I was different from the idea of blackness. Clark Atlanta has shown me through my matriculation who I am as a black woman and that being Black is not uniform.
Now that I have realized who I am in my Blackness, I want to share my journey with others who have had similar experiences with “being black enough”. Being a social worker is so important to me because I want to go into schools advocating for the students I encounter. I want them to exceed every educational limit they believe exists for them and I want them know that being smart is not equal to being White. I want these students to be unapologetically Black at school as well. Wear your fros and puffs, braids, locs, and anything else that is a part of the culture. There is no need to lessen who you are to be able to advance in your education or in your career just because it makes others uncomfortable. If I could go back in time, I would tell my younger self that you are an educated, Black woman who is enough.