When I think about everything that has shaped me into the young woman I am today, I can say that deciding to attend an historically black college had the most impact. To tell you the truth, there isn’t anything that hasn’t been more impactful and these are some of the reasons why.
I grew up primarily going to schools where I didn’t feel like I saw myself well represented. Who am I? I am a proud, young black woman. But it wasn’t until I started to attend an HBCU that I felt like I could say this and believe it. I realized my confidence was damaged. The predominantly white schools I grew up in were detrimental. They were encouraging me to embrace everything that I was not. None of my friends looked like me. They were for the most part white, and so were my teachers. I always felt a powerful urge to be just like them, not realizing or embracing myself. I tried so hard to be everything that I wasn’t because I was influenced to believe it was the right thing to do. I wanted so badly to fit in and feel accepted that I was willing to do everything to hide my genuine self.
When the few black kids that you are surrounded with don’t accept you because you don’t seem “black enough” and the white kids look at you like you’re crazy because you try so hard to fit in with them, it can make you feel left out. For so long, I tried to overcompensate for what I felt like I lacked in the world. My hair had to be perfectly straightened, no matter how hard my natural curls fought it. I had to do things and act a certain way because of who I surrounded myself with. Everything I did wasn’t for me. It wasn’t even me as a person.
The breakthrough happened when I came to Norfolk State. It was a cultural shock at first. How could my blackness be so foreign to me? Granted, I’ve learned about influential African Americans of the past briefly throughout grade school, but it was nothing like being surrounded by them. Seeing girls my age on campus embracing their natural features proudly, basking in them, celebrating one another, I felt like I was finally where I belonged. Being told constantly what I was capable of, how powerful I am, out of the mouths of people I could relate to most, has changed my life. I no longer felt like I was trying so hard to be something that I knew inside I wasn’t. I felt this wave of being unstoppable. I could be and do anything I wanted, just by being me.
That experience alone has been groundbreaking, and I will forever be grateful for it.