Growing up as an Haitian African American, I have always struggled with accepting who I am. I found myself trying to fit in wherever I could get in. Every year, based on the group of people I was surrounded by, I would change the way I dressed, my mannerisms, and even my characteristics. I would put on a show, day by day, yet when I returned home I was still that Haitian African American girl. I wanted so badly to fit in and be known and be loved. Sometimes I didn’t want to even be known as Haitian because of the stereotypes: they smell, they’re bald headed, they can’t dress, they do voodoo. I battled with loving my beauty, I battled with accepting my hair, I battled with loving who God created me to be.
I remember as a child I used to hate the way my mother did my hair. When she finally stopped doing my hair and let me do it by myself, I was so excited. I would do hairstyles I knew didn’t go with my natural coils but I did them anyway. There came a point where I played with my hair so much that it began to fall out. I couldn’t accept myself for fear that others wouldn’t accept me for who I am.
The cycle finally began to break in high school. I attended the Academy of Information Technology Engineering (AITE). My mother forced me to go to AITE for a better opportunity than she and my father had as immigrants, but I dreaded it. On the first day, I connected with a girl I knew from middle school, Valeria. Valeria wasn’t my friend in middle school but she is now my friend until the end. Valeria showed me what it meant to be myself, to be authentically and unapologetically, loud, proud, and free. Valeria showered me with so much love and appreciation that I finally began to see my beauty within. I finally realized that my Black was beautiful, my skin was rich, and I am enough. I finally began to learn my true worth. By the end of my freshman year of school it didn’t matter to me what anyone said about me, all that mattered was that I knew who I was and I loved myself fiercely.
When I went off to my HBCU, Morris College, I fell in love with myself, truly and deeply. I was able to grow into the woman I am today because of the college’s resources, educators, and the amazing clubs and organizations. Being able to sit in my required African American History class truly made me realize how rich African American history is and how far we have come. During my College years I got the opportunity to be the NAACP President. I truly believe in the advancement of colored people, but honestly, all people. To me, one person left behind is a setback for all and one person ahead is a win.
During 2012 the Presidential Election, I started a campaign where I encouraged all students to register to vote. We had about 1,000 students on campus and I was able to get more than 500 registered to vote. When I first asked students to vote they did not care, but when I explained to them how important it was and how this was one of the major ways we could use our voice, they finally began registering to vote. I worked long hours after class, walking around campus, dorm to dorm, to ensure students finished their voter applications. When students were finally registered to vote, we then had an event where students were able to vote absentee. It was a beautiful experience that I will never forget.
About two months ago a student came up to me expressing how she hates how there is no Black student voice at Westhill High School (WHS, where I am based) where they can express themselves, discuss current events, and get out in the community. I explained to her that closed mouths don’t get fed, so if she wants change, she has to begin the change. I was then able to convince her to start a club here at WHS, and we now have an NAACP Club. The first meeting is being held this month and WHS also gives a Black History fact during each day’s morning announcements.
I find joy in bringing awareness to Black History Month, so this year I decorated my classroom at Westhill and have worn a Black History Month shirt every day. With my experiences as a child, I try to empower students to be proud of who they are, and be unapologetically them. There are many mornings I find myself helping a student fix their hair because I don’t want them to fall into my old ways of not believing in my own beauty.
While I enjoy the fun in switching my hair from different wigs throughout the year, every February I make sure to that my hair is braided. There is so much history in braids. During slavery, braids were said to be used to relay messages between slaves, signal that they were going to escape, or even used to keep gold and seeds to help them survive after they ran away. Rocking my braids remind me of what my ancestors did to survive. It also helps me show my African American students that we are beautiful and our ancestors left behind such a beautiful and rich history that has paved the way for us today. I encourage them to never be afraid to be Black and proud.
In closing, I will leave you with a poem that I truly love and hold near and dear to my heart: “I, Too,” by Langston Hughes. I too am America, I too am beautiful, I too am worthy.