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Pictured: Author at age 8 dancing at a family reunion in Mississippi.

My Journey Growing Up In The Black Community: The Beauty and The Struggle

by share

Story by Jaylin Ellison/VOX Media Cafe

Black is beauty. Black is strength. Black is intelligence. Black is excellence. Looking out upon the world, I have viewed numerous times the magnificence of black people. However, there are only certain things you can perceive and learn from the perspective of an outsider looking in. Being an insider who grew up in a predominantly Black community has benefited and limited me, but it has helped me to become who I am today.

I am a 16-year-old Atlantan born and raised African American girl. Everywhere I turn there is an example of black excellence. Whether it’s my parents and grandparents, teachers and mentors, or even mayors and senators there is always a Black voice to hear and learn from. Learning how to act and what standards and morals should be followed solely from a Black perspective has left a lasting mark on my personality and attitude that is both vital and beneficial, but also causes challenges.

Life Lessons

When I was in elementary school my father would take me to school every day. During the car rides we would go over “life lessons” where he would teach me things I needed to know about growing up and living life through stories from his childhood and stories he was told by his elders. The saying “when you know better, you do better” is one of the most unforgettable lessons I have learned. This saying, and others like it, taught me how to act while representing myself and my family from a young age. As I got older, I eventually realized that these things were taught to me to represent not only my family, but also everyone who looks like me.

There are stereotypes that misjudge my character and the character of black people. The idea that Black women are loud, angry, and “ghetto” or that Black men are aggressive and dangerous are common stereotypes constantly used against Black people to justify oppression and shape negative attitudes towards black communities. These crucial lessons have been etched in my mind. I am reminded that I am not what other people say I am or should be, but what I know I am.  

Breaking The Cycles

My grandma and I would always go shopping together and every time I would always want a doll from the toy section. She would always say “if there’s no black doll  you can’t get one” or “you can’t get that doll she is white.” I would get upset because in my eyes all the dolls were the same, the color did not make a difference, but the more she said it, the more I would follow that concept. I only picked up Black dolls and I only chose books with Black families on them because I learned anything that is not Black is not a plausible option. I then passed this ideology  on to my sister and younger cousins until they too caught on. It wasn’t till I was much older, when I caught myself only opening up to things that were Black and closing off to anything thing otherwise that I realized that I had continued a toxic cycle rooted from years of persecution, discrimination, and built-up anger. Many such cycles can be found in Black communities all around the country. These cycles must be broken in order for us to improve and become stronger and more united.

Knowing my culture was always very essential in each of the schools I attended growing up. My teachers were always ready to teach us about Black history throughout the year. Every year, knowing and reconnecting with my heritage made me feel more at ease in my own skin and proud to be African American. Having teachers who were and still are so knowledgeable and so passionate about my personal growth has always kept me motivated in school so that I may be the best version of myself.

For me, being in a predominantly Black school means that  there are a lot of commonalities between my peers and myself.  We have  the same style, the same hairstyles, listen to the same type of music, etc. This creates a welcoming environment in which we can bond and make lifelong friendships. Most times my peers and I encourage and support each other, but when someone doesn’t have the new Jordans that are out, or doesn’t wear box braids and faux locs, or doesn’t listen to J.Cole and Lil Baby like the rest of us, they are put down because they do not meet the majority’s standards. The comfortability with sameness within the youth of the community can be a source of tension, tearing us apart rather than bringing us together.

Throughout my journey in my black community I’ve learned, laughed, loved, and grown, and as I continue to do so, I’m becoming more grateful for the people I am surrounded with. Through all the lessons learned and memories made I am proud to say that I am an example of my community’s magnificence.

My black is beauty. My black is strength. My black is intelligence. My black is excellence.

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