Different people go to college for different reasons. Some go to make friends, some for advancement, others to find a spouse, and others to get an education. I went to college and became okay with being black.
August of 2007, I found myself standing on the yard of Howard University, The Mecca. My family drove all night to get me there. I remember us piling my things in a van my mother rented for the drive north. I remember my first glimpses of the District of Columbia, passing The Treasury building, and watching 7th Street turn into Georgia Avenue.
When the GPS told us we’d arrived, we were met with hundreds of upperclassmen who had volunteered to move-in the incoming freshman class. I stood and watched as they stacked my bags and boxes into a buggy and wheeled it up to the 7th floor of the east tower of The Bethune Cookman Annex. Once settled, I was ushered to the yard, along with hundreds of other wide-eyed freshmen, where I beheld the physical manifestation of the renowned phrase “Black Excellence”. There I stood amid a sea of black people. There was black as far as my eyes could see. There were black mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, black from all over the country and from out of the country. There we were, all of us here, together in one place, at one time, unified. I’d never seen anything like it.
My first memories are of Bitburg, Germany, where my family lived for four years. And for four years we were either the only black family or one of the only black families anywhere we went. We weren’t treated differently, as far as I remember, but I recognized that we were different. I understood that everyone else was white, and we were black; I just couldn’t understand why.
My father was dark chocolate and my mother caramel. Mix those two together and you get toffee. I looked for myself everywhere, but my teachers, movie stars, and the woman who taught me ballet were all white. My first best friend was a black girl who came from a family just like me, but they moved back to the States sooner than we did. And just like that, I was one of the only ones again.
When my family flew to the states, we landed in Wichita, Kansas. We moved into a neighborhood where we were the only black family on the block, and I attended a school where I was again in the minority. Absence of myself left me wanting, everywhere there were children with long flowing hair and blue eyes. Like Pecola, I wanted blue eyes too.
In 95, we drove to Miami and parked in a black neighborhood, but I saw nothing I aspired to be.
In Miami, I learned what it meant to live in need. There were plenty of black families, and we were all in the same struggle. Don’t get me wrong, life was good, we lived in an all-black working-class neighborhood. But it seemed there was only one narrative: work today, survive tomorrow.
The Howard University School of Business expanded that narrative. The professors were black, the students were black, and so was The President. It was Howard that showed me there is nothing wrong with being black. Black people are smart, wealthy, and organized. Black people can do everything white people can do and where there are not opportunities for us, we will create them.
There is nothing like being comfortable in your skin. Knowing that God made you the way you are on purpose. I think back on that little girl sitting in a classroom surrounded by long flowing tresses and blue eyes and want to tell her to hold her head high. I’d tell her that her skin is the reflection of the richness of her mother and her mother’s mother. That her smooth ebony needn’t be worn with skepticism but with the confidence that comes from knowing whose you are and then knowing who you are.
I am grateful for a Heavenly Father that does not make mistakes,
For Howard and the richness therein,
And for skin that tells the story of my ancestry.
Black is the color of my skin.
And I love the skin I’m in.