20, 02, 2017
As women I think we all have moments in our lives when we look at the images and people around us to frame who we want to be. Growing up as a young black woman in this country is especially interesting because we don’t see a lot of positive reinforcement of ourselves in mainstream media. It’s gotten better over the years thanks to wonderful black bloggers, actors, producers, directors and writers. I recently shared a video on my Facebook page of a new Sephora ad which features Khadija Shari. I was so excited because #RepresentationMatters and we don’t get a lot of that.
That video took me back to my elementary, middle and high school years. I thought about the black women I saw crushing it and were excited about because they made me feel like I could be great too. So in celebration of black history I’m sharing four women who positively influenced the way that I saw myself.
To me my mother is the pinnacle of strength. As a young Liberian woman who lost both parents before she was five years old, she came to this country and made ish happen. She was my first example of who a women should be. She taught me to love and appreciate my Liberian heritage (even though being African was not a popular thing when I was younger) and how to carry myself. She used to tell me (and still does) that I couldn’t go out just any kind of way because I wasn’t just any kind of way. She’s pretty much the reason why I take care in my appearance.
Through her example I’ve learned that I need to stand up for myself. If you know my mom you know that she is firm in her beliefs. She is NOT the one to try. Watching my whole life I learned that I do not let people take advantage of me. Though I didn’t practice this until much later in life, I knew that I wanted to be that kind of woman.
Most of my teachers in elementary school were black women but there was none quite like Ms. Feaster. She was very “conscious” (aka woke) as they would say back in the early 2000s.She talked to us about giving her son a West African name and was really excited when she heard my mom was from Liberia. Side note: I wonder if I can find her on Facebook. I digress. She was the first teacher to introduce me to books by black authors. I remember having to read books by Walter Dean Myers, Chinua Achebe and Maya Angelou. She talked about being black with so much excitement that I learned to be excited as a young black girl.
Another black woman that has influenced me is Oprah. This might seem like an obvious choice, and in some ways it is, but hear me out. Though I didn’t grow up knowing anyone wealthy personally, I knew it was attainable, but I almost always saw it in the form of a musician or an athlete – both of which I’m not. Then comes Oprah. A journalist who broke down barriers – not just for people of color, but for women. Faces like Oprah matter to me because it showed me anything is possible. That coupled with the fact that my uncle worked as a cameraman for her show added another level of hope.
Thanks to my mom I’ve been natural my whole life, she always straightened it. Growing up neither one of us knew what do with my hair (though she always told me it was beautiful), so we went through the same ritual every two weeks: wash, blow dry straighten or wash, blow dry, braid.
I saw Michaela for the first time on tv when I was in high school, and I had no idea who she was or what she did. When I saw her on rockin’ her afro in all of it’s glory I said to myself, “I’m gonna wear my hair like that when I get to college.” I just thought she looked so beautiful and free. I knew that my hair looked similar to hers when it’s wet and I longed to be that free. . . to be myself. Before her, I had no idea that I could wear my hair as is. I thought I was bound to the process. My hair was just too much to be worn naturally. I was so inspired by her boldness to wear her natural hair that it actually didn’t take me into college to do so.
These are just a fraction of the women and moments in my life that taught me to love myself and dream big as a black, African, Liberian woman. My hope is that one day I’ll inspire a young woman to know that she is smart, strong, beautiful and can accomplish anything.
Who are the people that inspire you?