26 Years a Black Woman

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A week ago I attended a “Sisterhood Circle” Thanksgiving dinner for faculty, staff, and students that identify as being women of color. There was food, thoughtful conversation, laughter, and even some tears. But my favorite part was the keynote speaker, an African American alumna of the university. She spoke of stereotypes, labels, boxes that women get forced into, and boxes that we sometimes willingly get into. Then she spoke about the sisterhood that we have no choice being apart of. She described being a woman (particularly a woman of color) as similar to being in a sorority, except that we cannot denounce our membership and paying dues is not optional. Fortunately our ancestors, civil rights activists, and suffrage pioneers paid those dues for us. She reminded the group that whether or not we choose to be active members, we can’t escape being associated with one another so we should just embrace it. As she put it, “You might as well come get some of this encouragement”. She closed her speech with a line from Maya Angelou’s poem, “Our Grandmothers” saying, “…my description cannot 
fit your tongue, for 
I have a certain way of being in this world, and I shall not, I shall not be moved…”

Fast forward to today, I got around to doing 2 things that I’ve been meaning to do: finish reading Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In” and caught an afternoon matinee to see “12 Years A Slave”. Both this movie and book have been creating major buzz in the media lately and it’s very clear why. When the credits rolled and when I turned the last page, I felt an overwhelming sense of pride. With this pride came the motivation to continue shattering stereotypes, taking advantage of opportunities my predecessors never thought possible, and reclaiming the image of (Black) womanhood. My takeaways from the dinner, movie, and book are:

  1. No matter who you actually are, others will always have their own definition of you. Without integrity, self-respect, and perseverance you can be convinced to believe things about yourself that just are not true. Define yourself and never lose sight of the life you deserve until it is yours.
  2. You can be questioned on the premise of race and gender, but your education is undeniable. No matter the oppression that you’re faced with, some things cannot be taken away from you; knowledge is one of those things.
  3. I’m Black and I’m a woman therefore I am inherently fierce. The world has no choice but to acknowledge and deal with my existence. I declare that I deserve the best because I work for it, and there is no reason for me to accept anything less than what I have earned.
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