Dear Rosa

"Stand for something or you will fall for anything. Today's mighty oak is yesterday's nut that held its ground."
- Rosa Parks 

Dear Rosa, Harriet, Ida, Maya, Shirley, & every brilliant woman that has come before me, 

Sometimes I look around at the current state of things and I feel kind of hopeless. I feel hopeless that girls around the world don't have access to an education. Hopeless that men in positions of authority are constantly taking advantage of women in the workplace. Hopeless that despite the advancements
we've made for gender equality, society is still telling us we're "too bossy", "too dramatic", or just plain "too much".  I don't know how you ladies did it. You dedicated your lives to advocating for the voiceless, the forgotten, and the disadvantaged. Somehow you pushed yourself to keep going despite the reality that no one wanted you or people that look like you in their space. You fought for yourself but something tells me you mostly fought for the people that didn't know how. Women and men everywhere looked to you to show them the light. They looked to you to provide hope when there was barely a sparkle shining at the end of the tunnel. From the deepest of trenches, from the hardest of hardships, your actions became power and your power became the example we all needed to see. 

If you were still alive today, what would you think of us? I'd love to think you'd be proud. Proud of our presence in the workforce, proud of our contributions to the political climate, proud of our ability to demand leadership and respect. At the same time, though, I feel like you'd be a little disappointed. Is this the way you imagined it? Does it surprise you that we're still fighting for gender equality?  How would you adapt if you were a girl just like me in 2018?

In 2018, there's a slew of new problems that advancements in technology have introduced. Social media has taken over the way we perceive the world around us. What seems like reality is actually the farthest thing from real life. We have become incredibly skillful at cropping and filtering ourselves in a way that shows us in our best light - literally and figuratively. We work the angles to make our bodies appear slim in the right places while emphasizing the parts deemed most desirable.  We spend hours upon hours each day scrolling through images of people's lives we hardly know, wishing our lives were remotely similar. We compare our reality to someone else's without stopping to realize that the images we see as someone's reality, are actually just their highlight reel. An emptiness overcomes us the more we compare the person we see in the mirror to the people we see on the screen of our phone.  Because we don't look like them or have as much money as they do, we start to believe that we're not as worthy, not as beautiful, and not as capable. We seek fulfillment & validation in the "likes" without stopping to seek comfort in the beauty that comes from within. What would you do, ladies? How do we stay timely and relevant with your peers without letting the overwhelming effects of comparison overcome us?

That being said, a lot of our problems remain the same.  Sure, they may look slightly different than the way you experienced them, but the heart of the problem is exactly the same.  Women & girls everywhere are still dealing with the consequences of living in a male-dominated world.  Even with a rise of women in high-power careers due to more women seeking higher education, we are still making 79 cents for every dollar a man makes (and that's just white women). Our role in the workforce continues to be discredited at the hands of the patriarchy who consistently bring us back to where they feel we belong. No matter how much money we make or what position we fill, our role as a woman in our society is something we are forced to not ignore. Our voice puts us at risk of being called "bossy" or "too much". Our bodies make us vulnerable to harassment and judgement. We want to be respected for our professionalism and intelligence but that proves too difficult because of the female bodies we were born into.  We fall victim to saying yes to things we're uncomfortable with simply because making waves by saying no is just too exhausting. Whether it's with our bosses, men that are interested in us, or our friends, we fear that saying no will end the relationship or hurt someone's feelings. We fail to remember that our feelings matter too, and we risk that at the benefit of someone else above ourselves. Aiming to please is often a great quality, but many times it can be our biggest downfall. 

Ladies, I find myself asking "What would you do?" if you were in our shoes today. How would you handle it? Who would you be? Your strength and determination as the female role models we know and love is unmatched. I strive to possess an ounce of the fearlessness you had. The weight of the world you carried on your back for me to live freely in the way I do today is unparalleled. I am grateful for the path you paved for me and the women who look like me to strive for a life of equality and greatness. You have given us an incredible head start but our fight isn't over - it is only the beginning. 


**This post was inspired by the book Dear Martin, a book about a black teenager that writes letters to Dr. King for answers about the racial injustice he faces. It's a heart wrenching, but necessary story of what it means to be a black boy in America today. This letter is my version of looking for answers in the inspiring black women from our history and how we can use their impact to reflect on how we as women live our lives today. 


The Power of Female Friendship

Almost 10 years ago, in the summer of 2008, a girl messaged me on AOL instant messenger. Her name was Laura. She told me that her and I had been assigned as roommates for our upcoming freshman year of college at The College of New Jersey. All that I can remember from that first conversation was her talking about being a cheerleader, having a leading role in the musical Cats, and that she would be a voice major that upcoming fall. She seemed nice but I had no idea what I was getting myself into. We were so young and naive at the time but that was the beauty of it. And when we finally met on freshmen move-in day in August 2008, I learned very quickly how special Laura truly was and how lucky I was to be her roommate. 

The first year of college was an actual whirlwind. I don't remember a lot of the details but I do remember that meeting Laura was, and still is, the most impactful and transformative friendship I've ever had. I truly believe that people come into our lives at certain seasons for a reason. Some of them are temporary and some of them are long term, but each relationship has a purpose. Each person we encounter is placed into our lives at a particular moment in time so that their presence can challenge us, teach us, benefit us, or change us. Over the course of ten years, my friendship with Laura has outlasted the various seasons of ups, downs, and in betweens. 

Whenever I reflect on our friendship, I know that it originally worked for us because we both really needed each other. I think I can speak for both of us when I say that we struggled with friendships up until that point. Sure, I had friends in high school but they often didn't feel complete. It always felt like something was missing. I would look at teenage friendships on TV or even in my own school and I always wanted they had. I wanted a friend that was more like a sister - someone I could spill my guts to without judgement, someone to do everything with, and someone so similar to me that we just "got" each other without having to say anything. Upon moving to college, I had a boyfriend back home that I was sickeningly obsessed with to the point that I pretty much stopped talking to my girl friends because I only wanted to spend time with him. I continuously chose him over my friends. It wasn't that I didn't want friends, because not having them eventually became a sore spot for me. With each passing month of dating him, I became more self-conscious and insecure about who I was and where I was going. So I'm sure you can assume how lost I was when I got to college. Laura filled the void I didn't know needed to be filled at the time. She encouraged me, she supported me, she sat beside me, and most importantly, she genuinely liked me enough to be my friend. I know that sounds silly, but it's everything I needed at the time. I remember a late night conversation between her and I in the fall of our freshman year when I opened up to her about my struggle with my mixed race identity. She was the first person I ever talked to about that out loud and I wasn't sure if she would even understand. I'm not sure she did understand at the time, but I do know that she listened and I felt relief and validation because I knew she heard me and loved me anyway. 

Laura was more than just my best friend throughout out my college years. It's difficult to explain in words the way you feel when you've met the friend equivalent of your soulmate but in any case, that's what she was (and is). She was right there with me for some of the hardest times in my life and I was there for her at her difficult times as well. We allowed each other to see the most vulnerable and broken parts of ourselves. She stuck by me even when my depressive brain tried to push her away and I stayed by her when she cried almost every single day from a break up. My friendship with Laura was the first real friendship I ever had. It taught me that friendship isn't always easy, but the effect it has on your heart is always worth it. Our friendship has certainly not been perfect. In fact, we kind of struggled after college and even went a year without speaking. However, it's taught me that friendships reflect the ebb and flow of your life. How can we expect them to stay the same when we're not the same? We change, mature, and adapt over time and in turn, so must our friendships. Some of them don't last and that's perfectly okay. Sometimes we need to say goodbye so that we can spread our wings and embark on a new journey. But for me, I'm eternally grateful that Laura and I are still choosing each other after all this time. 

Female friendships are so uniquely special. It's something you can only understand when you're in it and it's difficult to explain to an outside observer. Society tells women to place ultimate value on romantic relationships. While that is something that's innate in our human desires, female friendships have the power to connect & transform in a way that a significant other may never access. There is a spark of solidarity between all women that only gets stronger as the friendship grows. It's something we all yearn for and no matter how many people we date or much time we spend with our family, a true female bestie is incomparable. You all know that I love my boyfriend to pieces but my female friendships fill a part of heart that cannot be tapped into from a romantic relationship. Female friendships validate us, strengthen us, and empower us to be anything we want to be. Seeing our girlfriends succeed is one of the greatest joys. There's nothing better than being understood, and that's what female friendship is all about. 

To my Laura,
I am so lucky to know you. Thank you for 10 years of the most incredible friendship I've ever had. I'm so inspired by the commitment and dedication you give to everything you do. It's truly been amazing to watch you grow into the professional, beautiful, and empowered woman you are today. I am so proud of everything you've accomplished and my heart beams with happiness just thinking about all of the phenomenal things coming your way. I can't wait to stand by your side on your wedding day in a few short months. Love you! 


The Fear of Being You

For most of my life that I can actually remember, I lived in constant fear and discomfort of not being enough or not doing it right. It always seemed like I didn't measure up - no matter where I was or who I was with. There was often an underlying panic within me that forced me to crawl back inside myself in situations where I needed to be seen. It's funny because I had this desire to stand out, this desire to be validated, but whenever I actually had the chance I had a hard time accepting that it is was my time to shine. It's like I wanted to be seen and hide all at the same time. I would grow resentful that people wouldn't notice me but I would feel like "too much" when I was comfortable enough to be myself. That constant back and forth unfortunately left me in a position of loneliness a lot of the time. I felt alone with friends and I felt alone with myself. When you feel like you're never enough, you never really take the time to get to know yourself. Well, why would you if you feel like you're not worthy of knowing? 

I say all of this because a few months ago I finally got confirmation to the constant feeling of panic and stress I had been dealing with for so long. The thing that stole my self worth for years and years was anxiety. I know this might sound obvious to some people reading this but I can't tell you how relieved I was to know that all of this wasn't my fault. Feeling worried and insecure all the time made me feel like something was wrong with me, and that made the loneliness worse because it seemed like no one understood. I would isolate myself from social situations and then someone manage to tell myself that no one cared about me. It's funny how an anxious brain can play tricks on you. It wasn't that no one cared about me, it was that I pushed them away. 

It's clear to me now that the voice in my head telling me to isolate was really the voice of anxiety and depression. There was nothing wrong with me and there was nothing wrong with the people around me. The issue lied in the fear of being myself. I've shared this before but I used to struggle a lot with my biracial identity. I didn't know where I fit or how I should "act", and it felt like I was being pulled in many directions by peers. I obviously wasn't "white" enough and I certainly wasn't "black" enough either. The real person inside of me could never break free because I was constantly told to pick a side by my peers. After years of seeking to fit into a box I would never fit into, answering the question "Who are you?" was an impossible one. I remember having an interview freshman year of college where they asked, "What are 5 words to describe you?" Seems like a simple question, right? Well, not for me. I had absolutely no clue who I was. Not a single idea. I didn't know it at the time but the reason why I couldn't answer that question was because I lived in constant fear of myself. Being authentically "me" was terrifying

Fortunately, I'm not scared anymore. I feel very secure in who I am now and I genuinely love the person that I have become. I can clearly articulate who I am, what I like to do, and what I'm passionate about. This is a major victory because I wasn't able to confidently do that just 5 years ago. My anxiety manifests differently these days than it used to but it's still something I have to conquer each day. Today, my anxiety is rooted in situational stress professionally. I'm thankful that I have the privilege to get the help I need so I can be my best self not only for me, but for my family, my friends, my boyfriend, and my students. Overcoming anxiety is making the choice to say "I am enough" and "I am worthy of being seen and heard". 

I hope my story is helpful to one of you reading this. I want everyone that feels similarly to know that you are not alone, you're not crazy, and it most definitely gets better. You don't have to live in fear of being yourself any longer. You are SO loved!