0119: The "Alternative Black Girl" Experience

"The “Alternative Black Girl” Experience," Elenna Geffrard

My first encounter with race was when I was nine years old in the fourth grade. I knew that people were different from me because of their upbringing, cultural customs and the dynamics between parent and child. But I never thought that race was such a big deal because of it.

It was the first day of school and we were lining up in the schoolyard waiting for our teacher to pick us up. There was a new boy in my class who I’ve never seen before and was eager to introduce myself. He had really deep brown eyes and curly brown hair. I introduced myself and he did the same (we’ll refer to him as K for now). We talked a bit and had a few things in common: we liked video games, we had a younger sibling who happened to be in the same first grade class and our parents were immigrants (his family was from the former Yugoslavia and mine are from Haiti).

During that time, my father was a stay at home dad. He always took my younger brother and I to school and then came back when we needed to be picked up. He was there to witness when I shook K’s hand. As soon as he saw the interaction, I got yelled at all because of an action I thought was friendly. This happened fifteen years ago, but I don’t remember exactly what he said, but he did say (in Kreyol) “Don’t you dare touch that white boy.”

It always amazed me to this day that I try to see the light in situations like these, but to others it could be an eyesore. Just by making a new friend was enough to see the prejudice that my dad had for white people. I didn’t want that in my own life. Although I wanted to dearly be K’s friend, that sole encounter was the only memory I have of him.

Outside of my first encounter with racial tension, I’ve always stuck out as a sore thumb as a child: parents were older than my peers (my parents are currently in their mid to late sixties: baby boomers), I was always at the top of my class because all my parents wanted for me was to have a great education and stay out the hood and away from any negative associations that Black people had.

Though I was excelling in school, I wasn’t excelling in social adeptness. I didn’t really get along with students in my classes because they felt that I was above them or I was too much of a “goody two shoes.” To make matters worse in their eyes, I didn’t fit in because I didn’t know about a lot of things in Black culture like music or the latest dance craze – let alone if I attempted to do a dance I’d be labeled as “not knowing how to dance” (and this is coming from someone who was classically trained in ballet from ages five to thirteen). The word “Oreo” was now in my countless list of nicknames I can say that I was given in my K through twelve tenure.

Oreos went from being my favorite cookies to being a term that I’ve grown to dislike. When I was called an “Oreo” when I was in elementary school, I thought nothing of it, only to realize what it really meant in today’s coded language “a white person in a black person’s body.” I knew fully well that I was Black. It’s just hearing from my peers that speaking in proper English, liking anime and manga and even listening to rock music was deemed as “stuff that white people do.”

Let me tell you all one thing.

Just because I like some things in nerd culture, do not know the lyrics or famous lines in Black movies, like rock music or sing in other languages aside from English and my own mother’s tongue does not make me any less Black.

Once again for the people out back.

I am just as Black as the next Black person. I just have a different niche of interests. Being Black is a spectrum: just like our skin colors are endless, our nation of origin, beliefs, orientation, so are our experiences.

I may not know that many songs or the names of newer rappers or even the names of their songs, but one thing I do know is where I came from. I am the daughter of Haitian immigrants who came to give my siblings and me a better life than their own. I know about the history that my parents have engraved into me since childhood. I speak my mother’s tongue, even if I do flip back and forth between Kreyol and English. I know that at the end of the day, I’m Black. I know at the end of the day, both white and non-white people would only see me as a Black person, despite my interests and education. I am an alternative Black girl and I wouldn’t want to have it any other way because I want to live my own truth and experience. 


About the art:

This piece was fairly simple to create, because Elenna gave me a wonderful idea of having themselves sitting surrounded by anime and manga - and although I know nothing about either of those things, I did my best to try and represent that image.

I hope Elenna can hang this up as a reminder that their interests need not be defined by the color of their skin.

- Katy

0118: Extra Ordinary

"Extra Ordinary," Karyn Dyer

Note: So instead of telling my complete story about how I came to understand my Black identity, I decided to share a poem that I wrote recently called "Extra Ordinary." With each stanza I hope to talk a bit more about what I mean and how it connects to my identity, my experiences, and some shared experiences. I also want to clarify that I will be primarily talking about being Black in America, as that is my primary lived experience. 

I’m real extra ordinary
I sit in my house and write poems I’m afraid to read aloud
I teach students how to be our future leaders
And I do my hair every Sunday so most likely what you are seeing on my head right now is what my hands could have come up with

Being Black is as simple as being human...sometimes. Sometimes I feel like I am a regular person in this society, this nation, this world. Sometimes being extra ordinary as a Black person means that I may be silenced or isolated. I have been in spaces where I have been the only Black person.

My self-awareness is heightened and that meant that I would have to challenge myself more to be comfortable with being myself. When I am in spaces with other Black people, it gives me more mental space to be myself and I don’t even have to think twice.

I’m real extraordinary
I pick up a pen and my notebook and write my truths and create pictures and tell stories
I’m an educator, one of the realest of our time
Helping our students learn about themselves, about this world, and what they can do to change this world
And my hair is full of coils and curls, it’s thick and coarse and lovely
And every Sunday I give it the love and needs and deserves

However most times, being Black is a statement, whether it be political, emotional, professional, cultural, or personal. Some of my actions are interpreted differently by others. As an educator, my racial identity is important, especially for those who like me, teach at predominantly white schools where people who look like me are still considered a “minority” (I don’t like to use this term, there’s nothing minor about me but I’ll recognize the context as it is necessary).

My hair is so complex in spaces. I am now at a point in my life which I do not care much about any negative perceptions that I may receive about my hair because I feel so comfortable with it, I feel comfortable knowing that I am in community with other Black people with curly, coily, and kinky hair, locs, braids, twists, and other styles associated with Black hair.

It’s all about perspective
All about new visions, inner reflections, outward appreciations
Finding joy in who you are and what you do
That’s what we do everyday

Magical beings we are
Sometimes we talk about ourselves as if we are mythical, mystical creatures
As if we come from the minds of those who couldn’t imagine greatness looking at their faces
We’re real extraordinary
We’re real extra ordinary

Black people are often ogled, objectified, and monitored from an uncomfortable standpoint considering that we are humans and not experiments, nor 3/5ths of a person as we used to be back when we were enslaved.

Jesse was right, we are magic
Jesse was right, we are real
And the thing about being magical and real is that sometimes real things happen to magicians
Sometimes we get robbed from our magic, sometimes our magic is taken from us
The way it was taken from Trayvon, taken from Korryn, taken from Michael, taken from Rekia, taken from Oscar, taken from Sandra
I wish our magic protected our bodies the same way it protected our spirits
Protected our souls
I wish our magic made us invulnerable the same way it makes us invincible

Black people, as a whole, we are awesome. We are creative, we are humorous, we are dope, we are beautiful, we are wise, we are inspiring, and we are resilient. Jesse Williams, actor and humanitarian, once said “Just because we’re magic, doesn’t mean we’re not real.” I understand this to mean that even with our collective personalities and spirits coming together to create impact and change, the reality is, we are still battle against the white supremacist society. Black people across all genders still suffer from acts of violence, police brutality, micro and macro aggressions.

Our experiences live on the spectrum of polarities
Tragedies to excellence!
We’re real extraordinary
When we inspire our peers
When we inspire the masses
When we support our own
When we create
When we rise
When we see each other rise to be seen and represent

In the face of adversity, I have seen and witnessed Black people demonstrate true integrity, strength, and pride, all in different ways.

We see women like Kerry, Viola, Issa, Taraji
Beyonce, Solange, Janelle, Aretha, Whitney, Nina
Kamala, Michelle, Shirley, Loretta, Venus, Serena
We lit, we betta

We see men like Denzel, Jesse, Michael B., Mahershala
John Legend, Kendrick, Biggie, Tupac, Chance, Donald
The only Donald that matters
Steph, Lebron, Odell, Dak, Colin, Cam

And they’re just the name you know
Not just in the name or the fame
We are great everyday

From the magical Black girls to the joyful Black Boys
We are great in every way
From our outer shades of brown to the inner golden shades of our souls
We’re real extraordinary

We’re real extra ordinary
From the creators to the educators to the managers to the students to the soul searchers
We make history, we change history

So when I have those days where I feel like I’m extra ordinary, I need to stop myself
Come back and remind myself who I am, where I belong
And I belong to the league of the extraordinary

I’m proud to be Black. My pride in my racial identity should not be interpreted as “my race is better than yours” but should be recognized in the context in which it exists. I identify with a racial identity and group of people who experienced racism and other forms of violence which has impacted our understanding and our appreciation of who we are, what we look like, and where we come from. So every Black History Month (everyday, really), I take pride in celebrating part of my identity, my people, our contributions to our community, and to society as a whole. We really are extraordinary.


About the art:

I went through a few ideas while coming up with the artwork for this poem. I absolutely loved every bit of Karyn's poem, and I didn't know which piece to take as inspiration, so I decided to go with the overarching theme of extraordinary.

When I think of extraordinary, I think of stars. I think of things beyond the reach of understanding of the general population. I kept thinking of Karyn preparing to do her hair on Sunday, and getting lost in the stars and space and magic of her hair. The magic that is beyond understanding of the general population.

I hope Karyn can keep this as a reminder of her own magic.

- Katy

0117: Black Excellence

"Black Excellence," Jack Nesmith


Black Excellence- Motivating Black Success

Ever since I was a child, the importance of success as a person of color was a life motivator to make a positive difference in society. When I was seven years old, I wrote on a sheet of paper “I want to go to college and graduate as the first member of my family” and use that as an inspiration to reach new levels of success in my life that I’ve never dreamed of achieving.

As a young Black Male, I have been able to reflect on the experiences that developed my identity and why my race is important to me as a person. Learning about black culture was inspiring to learn about people that I identified with overcome huddles and obstacles in America while being some of the best minds in society as well. Even with the hardships and historical setbacks to the African American community, I was proud of to learn of the rich history and accomplishments of black leaders. As a first-generation graduate with my Bachelors and Masters degrees, the importance of education as a black man was a motivate to overcome the odds and reach new heights of success. 

As a kid, I admired Dr. Martin Luther King as one of my favorite heroes who used an extreme amount of courage, peace, and wisdom to deal with some of worst social issues in our country. Despite Dr. King’s amazing message given to people of all backgrounds and the strides of diversity in our nation, the issue of attacks on social justice, racism, and negativity are still in effect for people of color within the United States.

For this piece, I wanted to reflect on the importance of Black Excellence and how African-Americans are making strides and positive impacts in the world. To have positive mentors, peers, and role models of color in media, education, and other forms of leadership around the world. Seeing the such of those amazing people can inspire others that feel trapped by the burdens of ignorance and hatred in life. 

Social Justice Awareness 

As recent events have affected our country, being a person of color is a society filled with racism, hate crimes, and a resist to accept diversity can be draining. When I hear the news of a black person attacked by the criminal justice system or false accused of a crime, I tell myself “not this again” and cringe at the negative aftermath on social media.

As every hashtag became a lost life of a black male, the cold reality of every step forward for myself, society was taking ten steps backwards. Despite how upsetting this can be for many African-Americans, these actions inspire me to reach out to other men and women of color and support them. From my friends in college, graduate school, and even as a professional, it’s awesome to see how far many of them have come in life.

Seeing fellow peers of color of all background creating positive change despite the negative barriers and stereotypes in society is refreshing. Even having peers that are not people of color being supportive and aware of these issues provide a bit of hope to hopefully put an end to all forms of hatred and spread knowledge to others to make a difference.

Why Black Excellence Matters?

In a time where negative actions towards people of color, I always enjoy seeing stories of men and women (and those who don’t identity with gender folx’s) doing well in life. Hearing about powerful leaders of color giving back to their hometowns, finding the cure to disease, going into government, and getting into institutions of higher education is one of the biggest forms of Black Excellence that I enjoy seeing. The stereotypes that are given to African-American’s in society are some that still cause pain, frustration, and setbacks can be disheartening however, I try to use it as a motivational drive to keep doing well and overcoming issues that are given by racial prejudice and racism in the country.

An example of black excellence recently was the powerful success of actors and actresses of color in television and movies. Seeing people of color of all backgrounds achieve success for their shows and efforts in arts was positive as some of my favorites reached new levels of acknowledge.

My favorite rapper and actor Donald Glover took home two awards at the event and had an amazing show called Atlanta (which is amazing and you should watch season 1 asap) about black culture in Atlanta. As a fan of Glover, his success outside of acting with movies like Spider-man Homecoming, Star Wars, and more of his own projects is a great of black excellence from a young person of color. Watching his rise of success from Mystery Team to big picture movies made him one of the people that inspires me to keep moving forward in life. 

For myself, I am a person that came from a low-income area and learned from the public-school system that I am proud of and feel made me a better person. To reflect on humble beings to where I am now helped me learn how to work for everything I wanted in life and help other succeed which is why people like Donald Glover, Derek Jeter, Serena Williams, and other people of color inspire me to make a difference because of who they are as a person.

hey are not only proud to be black, they also believe in standing up for justice, helping others in their community, and encouraging people to live their dreams as young black people. All of them faced hardships in their lives from racial discrimination to shortcomings that made them the amazing people they are today.

Even as a passionate wrestling fan, this pass year, wrestlers like The New Day, Sasha Banks, Cedric Alexander, Rich Swann, and more overcome obstacles to inspire all fans including black ones to believe in their dreams. The #blackexcellence photo they took was inspiring to see five black champions in a company that was predominately white for many years and took ages for a black champion to succeed even during “progressive” times. 

Paying It Forward 

As I finish this piece, I want to share my goal of helping the future generation of leaders of color make a difference in the world. As a student affairs professional, I want to inspire everyone regardless of your race, gender orientation, status, or belief to beat the odds and keep being amazing. Being Black is something I love and is a part of who I am as a young person, scholar, and person of color in America. Despite the issues in our society, I aspire to keep my dream of helping others and hope to see more people of color dream, succeed, and overcome any personal setbacks in life.


About the art:

Jack is one of the best dudes I've never met. He's always supportive of people in our student affairs community, our wrestling community, and seemingly toward everyone in his life. And I love that. It's a trait that I admire very much in him.

I was glad that he was willing to share his story with us for this project because he always shares a wonderful perspective as a Black man in those communities.

Jack knew exactly what he wanted me to paint as well, which made this pretty cut and dry. He wanted a black and grey rendering of the Captain America shield. So I gave it my perspective and had fun mapping out the circles. For the largest circle I used a 10" vinyl record, the middle circle was an old jukebox 45 record, and the smallest circle is from the lid of a peanut butter container. Got real creative with those circles!

I suck at making stars look decent, so I hoped the rendering of this as a little more worn and dirty would give me a little bit of a break in terms of the form of the shape.

Alas, I think this piece looks cool and I'm stoked that it will go to Jack soon, as he begins his new job - fresh off the job search, just as I was exactly one year ago this week! Best of luck and thanks again, Jack!

- Craig.


095: Body Count: a self-summary

Content warning: This poem features discussion of depression, self-harm, as well as references to the Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando and the shootings of countless black and brown bodies each year by police.

"Body Count: a self-summary," Maggie Roque

In considering the prompt of survival as it relates to suicide and self-harm, the concept of "self-care" immediately came to mind. Often times, I am prompted to assess my mental health and practice self-care in my roles as a student services professional and as a community organizer focused on racial justice.

Having struggled with depression and cutting, assessing my mental health can be a complicated task, especially when coupled with my identity as a queer woman of color.

I wrote this poem to give life to my experience, to speak to others who experience this too, and most importantly, to remind myself that survival does not mean always being healthy and never reliving past trauma. Survival, for me, is committing to believing I am worthy, in all that I am, of love, of life, of hope.

"Body Count: a self-summary"

Is it oppression or depression
knotting my mind,
filling my body to the brim
with wet sand, sluggish.
Cumbersome. Heavy. My heart
pulls and breaks
strings stretched too taut from hurting too
deeply too often.

Is it oppression or depression
cutting into me like shards of broken mirror
echoing reflections that sigh
out, “I am enough.”
A therapeutic exercise turned habit.
A phrase we crave, but rarely hear.
A mantra necessary for resilience
for enduring
for walking through this world
brown and queer and womanly.

Is it oppression or depression
fueling motivation for the ink on my skin?
Tattoos dancing with each shift of muscle
and underneath them
near them
somewhere scars. I’m covered
in sentimentality
in stories of creating space, my refusal
to be defined by it, of temporary
feelings and impermanence,
of celebrating love and life.

Is it oppression or depression
counting in my mind?
Four tattoos to reclaim a body littered
in deliberate scarring.
Four times submitting to the healing
sting of a needle, soothing the bone deep
ache of an abandoned blade.
Four sweet stories to whisper
away self-hatred
I can’t wipe clean. 41,149 deaths
by suicide in the US last year1,
but not me, not me.

Is it oppression or depression
whispering anxieties in the dark?
Telling me things will never change,
asking me why I’m fighting
wondering does it make a difference?
682 people of color killed by police this year,
more by the time these words find life.
49 killed in Pulse with names like mine
with skin like mine and loves like mine
with the desire to live life intensely,
to find community as I seek mine.
And all the while, the quiet voice
crying what if? What if?

Is it oppression or depression
dictating my worth?
Undressing me with predatory eyes
with cold hands
raising gooseflesh on my skin
chastising me for wearing my bumps and
bruises so easily, so openly
for wearing my ugly so honestly
for finding my beauty amidst brutality.
Brown skin golden in the sun
and hair shorn short and soft,
it’s just too much.
I’m meant to be seen, not heard,
but no, hold on
I’m not meant to be at all.

Is it oppression or depression
distorting my world into one where
existing is resisting?
When each breath I take is an act
of defiance, each word spoken
a step further away from comfort, from home
each heart beat a rally cry
for justice for equity for safety for space,
I won’t let hope leave me again.
She’s worth the chase.

1 - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
2 - http://killedbypolice.net/


About the art:

I read Maggie's poem several times over and over to fully grasp the meaning of this poem to herself. I asked her about any motifs, stanzas and lines that stood out to her the most.

Though this poem does speak a lot about oppression and the depression that people of color may feel when tuning into different media on a daily basis, the last stanza, specifically the last two lines 'I won't let hope leave me again. She is worth the chase.' stood out the most to me.

The questions that remained were 'how do you define hope? How do you define oppression?' In this instance, oppression is a shadow that looms behind us. It appears time after time again and lurks behind you, or even in front of you. Hope is represented by the sunrise, which symbolizes a new day-- a new perspective and new ideas and approaches to overcoming oppression. Maggie told me that her favorite color is yellow and I thought of the sun when she told me this.

I am honored to have worked on this piece. The poem that this picture will accompany is a very powerful one and I recommend everyone to read.

- Elenna Geffrard