What about yo’ friends?!

Having just returned from a spring break “girls trip” to Europe with two of my closets friends, friendship has been a topic heavy on heart.  Myself and one of my other friends, Taryn, a Ph.D. candidate, travelled miles away from home to visit our friend, Ashley, who is currently living in Madrid, Spain teaching English to high school students.  The trip couldn’t have been more perfect.   (The experience I had causes for a whole new blog!) Neither Taryn nor I have travelled outside of the country before so we were both able to share the beautiful experience together.  It didn’t really hit me how truly blessed I was to have been provided the opportunity to travel to another country and to have such amazing people in my life to do this with until I got back to the states of course.  As I was unpacking my luggage, a huge rush of sadness came over me as I realized that I wouldn’t be seeing my friends again for a very long time.  We all met while in undergrad and became really close with one another.  We went from seeing each other almost every day to not at all after we all graduated in 2010.  Not having that instant access to one another was difficult for me to get adjusted to along with post-college life because my friends play such an integral role in my life.  With Taryn and my other friend and old roommate, Sheena, leaving in another state, Ashley working in another country, and Cornesia who recently received her masters in Social Work just beginning her career in another city, I feel like I have pieces of my heart scattered all over the world.  You should hear us recant the times we first met one another for the first time, all of our different interpretations are hilarious! I once saw this quote that pretty much sums up how the support I receive from my friends helps me, “A woman can rule the world, all she needs are her high heels & her girlfriends”.  Of course I’ve met a number of people over the years who I consider to be in my social circle, Keara Courtney, Amber, Misha, Que, Shirley, Matt, Daniel, & all of TRK to name a few whose friendships I am eternally grateful for as well. 

 I’m a rather social person so I can start and maintain a conversation with almost anybody; making acquaintances was never a difficulty for me.  But choosing friends, people that I can comfortably let my guard down with, individuals who I can trust to challenge me even when I don’t want to be challenged, that’s a totally different story.   In my opinion, to be called someone’s friend is a privilege, which is something that everyone shouldn’t have the luxury of. When I was younger I used to think that the more friends I had the better and boy was I sadly mistaken.  I’ve since learned that it’s about the quality of people I have in my life, definitely not the quantity.  What good is it to have a million people you call a friend but not one that you can actually call on? For me, it’s really about who can add value to my life and vice versa.  I’m on a very specific path of self-discovery and achievement and I need to be surrounded by people who understand and respect that; and that’s just what I’ve been blessed with.  Everybody on my team is a go-getter. None of us are afraid of a little hard work.  We all have very different and unique ways of getting things done but that’s the beauty of it all, different perspectives chasing the same dream.

 Upon first glance of my inner circle, you probably wouldn’t think that there’s much diversity beyond what meets the eye but if you take a deeper look and begin to ask each of us what our stories are, you’d really see how different we all are.  There’s background differences in that I didn’t realize that single parent households were abnormal until I met my friends who’s parents were not only together but happily married.  They probably don’t even know that I hadn’t been exposed to that kind of lifestyle until I me them…well, Whoop-there it is!  There’s also personality differences which causes for very interesting debates at times and makes our friendships that much more dynamic.  I also have male friends and friends of other ethnicities that help to give me a more well rounded view of the world in which I live.  The bottom line is that we all bring different things to the table that aide in our development of fully established individuals and I wouldn’t have it any other way.  I’m very particular with the people I allow in my life and I have good reason to be.  I pride myself on being a great friend and I’ll accept nothing in return– only iron can sharpen iron.  They say that if you want to see a hint of your future just look at the six people you spend the most time with.  Well, I’m pretty happy with the way my future is looking!   

“Who gets to talk to you everyday, is almost like the food that you eat”- Will Smith

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Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

I spent, actually WASTED would be a better term to use, a huge chunk of my early teenage years questioning my beauty.  How I felt about myself was largely determined by the way others felt about me.  Just reflecting back on that now, my much more confident self, upsets me.  I was very self-conscious in middle school, mainly because of my skin tone but also because my mother couldn’t afford the latest shoes and fashion trends and back then that was EVERYTHING.  Kids really wouldn’t associate with you if you didn’t have the new Jordan tennis shoes.  Not only would they not associate with you, they would brutally pick on you and your lack of Baby Phat and Tommy Hilfiger.  Having been surrounded by that for years I did what every other naive and absorbent teenager would do, I began to internalize it.  It wasn’t until I was a sophomore in high school and joined my school’s highly regarded cheerleading team that I really began to see myself as the beautiful-too-hot-to-trot young lady that I was.  Joining an organization gave me the inauthentic boost of self-esteem that I thought I needed at the time to really step out of my comfort zone and begin to care less about the opinions of others and more about the bright future I had in front of me.

Today, nobody, and I do mean NOBODY could tell me that I’m not a beautiful person inside and out.  And please don’t think I’m conceited, that mentality comes from a place of commemoration in remembrance of the struggle that I endured to get to where I am now–in complete appreciation for the unique woman I am.  I love everything about myself, even my flaws because they’re a constant reminder that I am human despite my misguided efforts to be perfect.  I realize that on some people’s scales my grading may vary based on their personal likes and dislikes but fortunately, D’Andrea will still sleep peacefully at night regardless of others opinions because she’s comfortable in her own skin. Yes, I did refer to myself in third person; I think it works well here considering the context.  Do I have insecurities? Absolutely, find me a woman who doesn’t.

Although I recognize how far I’ve come now having established an deep appreciation of self, I do realize that no matter what I think or how I feel about myself, people will still pass judgments of me based on my ethnicity, gender, and any other bland classification system our society operates off of.  And I’m not happy about that…AT ALL. The fact that no matter how hard I work to be independent, some will always view me as the girl who grew up on governmental assistance is a bit discouraging.  It’s so unfair.  Call me crazy ambitious but I believe that I can choose how my appearance affects my life, to a certain extent.  I believe that my background makes me that much more relatable to students considering that more and more first-generation students are making the brave decision to go to college.  When a student comes to me to vent about how crazy her life is because of a job that she has have in order to financially support herself while in school but also holds a leadership position in a student organization, I’ll be a credible and worthy listening ear; not only because I have a fancy degree in this type of stuff because she is me and I am her.   I could easily refer back to one of the billion theories I’ve learned about student development thus far or I can dig deep within myself to remember how overwhelmed I felt at that time period in my life as a means to relate to my student and offer genuine guidance and support.  I’ll have a mixture of both please!

“We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be?”- Miriam Williamson

Who you are is who you should be; it’s as simple as that.

You ask about my cultural self? To be totally honest, I’m still trying to figure that out myself.  As a 20 something year old, I’m just trying to figure life out really.  I can try to explain to you what I’ve learned thus far though about my cultural self. Buckle up.

 

Growing up, I don’t ever remember being challenged or even encouraged to think about my cultural self.  I knew that I was Black, and that was it, what else needed to be discussed? I wasn’t really privy to the idea that being Black meant so much more than skin color and participating in the Black History Program once a year.  I just didn’t know.  I hate to admit it, but because I wasn’t properly educated beforehand, I walked around racially numb and ignorant to the role that my race, gender, and even social upbringing played in my life until my sophomore year in college.  Attending a predominantly white institution, I was first introduced to the idea that I would be judged based off of my outward appearance long before I even opened my mouth to speak.  There was a prevalent racial divide that existed on campus between the white and minority students (African-American students to be more specific) that nobody paid much attention to. I will never forget the day that my racial conscious was awakening when I was in a meeting working on a group project with 3 other white students and one made what he thought was funny joke by saying that all the Africa-American students in the class (which was only 2 including myself) would get really excited to hear that we put a hip-hop song in our presentation. Wait…What?? That was my initial reaction when he finished is idiotic thought and the other 2 group members decided to laugh like he was the funniest comedian since Eddie Murphy.  Who died a made you the Mr. Know it All of Black people? How can you be so sure that all Black people listen to hip-hop? What makes you think it’s okay to speak for an entire population based off the few interactions you’ve had with your “Black friends”? These were all thoughts that were circulating around my head as I sat there and watched them laugh at my race in what I interpreted as mockery.  That’s right, I just sat there.  Upset at the fact that I’d been disrespected, confused because I had never been in a situation like this, and small because I didn’t do anything about it.  I didn’t join in the laughter but I didn’t do anything to halt it either; in my eyes I was just as much the culprit as they were. 

 

As I walked to the bus stop to head home with my bruised ego in tow, I wondered how I ended up in this predicament.  What had I done to make him think it was not only appropriate but acceptable to make a remark like that?  Moreover, why couldn’t I speak up about it? I felt like I was in a war that I didn’t even sign up for.  I was attacked without any preparation at all. At that moment, it was revealed to me what being Black really meant.  It went far beyond color for me.  This is the day that I gained ownership of my culture and ethnicity; realizing that one could be born with a certain racial identity and have no true connection to that identity whatsoever unless and until he or she were willing to be active in that initiation process. As a result, I decided that I wanted to be a proud African-American, one who would be offended and get upset if I felt that my race was being disrespected AND do something to stop/prevent it. 

 

Later on down in my college career, I soon learned the disheartening news that some people themselves are unconscious and make absurd remarks based off what they see on television not realizing that they are being disrespectful.  The fact is that my group member, a privileged longhorn legacy, would have made that joke regardless of my social awareness or lack there of.  It was then that I realized that I wouldn’t be able to control what people said but I could always be prepared to negate the stereotypes, advocate for a more accurate perspective of my race, and hopefully educate those ill-informed individuals who were blissfully ignorant and didn’t even know it.  I’d be ready for the next round and that was a promise (cue the infamous Rocky music)! This traumatic experience was a daunting challenge but also an educational opportunity as well.  The psychological imprint it left on my heart and my mind was reason enough for me to NEVER want to be caught unprepared in a situation like that again and not have a proper response. And that my friends is when I subconsciously gave birth to my social conscious.  

“When you’re saying nothing, what exactly are you really saying?” 

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