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Why Representation Matters!

Updated: Aug 3, 2020

As a third culture kid (TCK), someone was born and raised in a completely different culture than that of my mother and father, I am going to discuss my journey of self-awareness and identity and why representation matters. I was blessed to have a full cultural immersion experience at the start of birth as well as in my household. I was born in England, attended Kindergarten through third grade in Japan, and moved to Korea, and Hawaii before setting foot in the states between third and fourth grade. My father, a Black man, only child, born and raised by his grandmother and mother as seventh day Adventist in Springfield, Ohio. He was very strict and loving at the same time. He believed and raised me to respect my elders and adults, to say yes sir and no ma’am, and to never speak to an adult by first name basis, he also insisted on being called Mr. Collins or Chief by my friends. My mother on the other hand, a white, red headed, very liberal woman. I often refer to her as a flower child from the 70’s, one of the youngest of 11 siblings, born and raised Irish Catholic in upstate Syracuse, New York. She was very strict (mommy dearest, inside joke between her and I) when it came to her raising me, not my brother (my dad was very hard on him, so I guess it evened out). She was very laid back and considered cool by most of my friends and wanted to me called by her first name. Both very different stories, upbringings, and backgrounds.

My multiracial and multicultural upbringing as well as being culturally immersed as a military kid was very influential throughout my early development stages. I was surrounded by multiracial, ethnic, and cultural backgrounds. It wasn’t until I moved to the states that race, culture, and ethnicity became so much more evident and significant to me. We moved back to Ohio to be closer to family. I grew up and was raised around my father’s side of the family near Springfield, Ohio and my grandmother (who was about 5'2 might I add), although very tough at times, she was very instrumental and had a huge impact in my life. My middle name was named after her and I consider her to be one of my guardian angels. I never met my mom’s dad due to him passing away while my mother was young and only met my mom’s mom once very early in life when first moving back to the states.

My father was a member of the Prince Hall Freemasonry Shrinedom as both a Shriner and a Mason. A lot of my memories were with my Prince Hall and Military Aunts, Uncles and cousins. This is also where I learned that family was much more than blood relatives. I also recognized early on that my mother identified very much with the Black culture. She was a member of the Prince Hall Freemasonry Shrinedom, Order of Eastern Star and Daughters of Isis; I will come back to this topic due to it being a very integral part of the story of why representation matters in a bit. I was raised non-denominal in the Black church where my mother taught bible study and called herself singing in the choir. I laugh at the “called herself singing” because that was an inside joke between she and I, music is and was a huge part of my life and my father was really the singer, I digress.

Within these organizations there are also youth organizations that develop leadership as well as guided you towards eventually becoming a member of the Order of Eastern Star and/or Daughter of Isis. These youth organizations are similar to that of Black Greek organizations such as the Delta G.E.M.S program, like Delta Academy, and the Debutante Ball implemented by chapters of Delta Sigma Theta, Sorority, Inc. You may be wondering why I have stated the “Black church” as well as “Black Greek” organizations and “Prince Hall” because each of these are historically Black. They also highlight the importance of representation. Prior to the American Revolutionary War, Prince Hall and fourteen other Black men petitioned for admittance to the white Boston St. John’s Lodge and were declined. Therefore, as highlighted throughout history, my Black ancestors created their own (banks, churches, lodges, schools, etc). Although some may believe segregation and the separation of race is over or has ended, it is still very present today.

My first encounter with race and representation was in the U.S. I was a member of the Girls Scouts at the time and I overheard one of my friends, who happened to be white, talking about going to an event sponsored by an organization called Rainbow, the irony of that name. I was intrigued and wanted to know if I could join. I was then sat down by my friend and her mother stating I could not join because I was Black, and Rainbow (still laugh at the incongruence) does not allow Black people into their organization. I think the rest was a bit of a blur to me because I remember them trying to console me and saying it wasn’t fair and they didn’t agree with it. Yet I still couldn’t understand why they continued to be member of such an organization and consider me as a friend. My mom then picked me up and we had a long discussion about it. She tried to console me as best she could, yet I had so many questions that my mom tried to answer but could not.

This encounter brought up so much in my identity development process. What I also asked my mom during that time and couldn’t understand was, why my mom was allowed to join the Prince Hall chapters of Daughter of Isis and Eastern Star that are historically Black, but I’m not allowed to join Rainbow? My mom later signed me up for Girl’s Assembly, the Prince Hall version of Rainbow and in that moment, the seed was planted as to the importance of representation. It was also a pivotal moment on how race still matters whether people choose not to see or acknowledge its existence. Furthermore, learning that just because one of your parents or family members is white, it does not mean you are afforded the same privileges as them.

From there I learned that there are several layers to identity and representation and that representation is essential. Both my parents provided me with the foundation and representation spirituality and in the form of religion by having me dedicated to the Lord as a child and giving me the freedom to choose my path later in life. Yet, there was still the journey of identifying and choosing the Black church or the White church. Both parents also instilled in me the importance of higher education, however, neither could provide me with the representation and additional support I needed towards pursing and completing that education given that neither had completed a bachelor’s degree. The journey towards academia was and is no easy feat. Standardized tests, math, and reading comprehenswereion something I found to be difficult and I had to receive additional tutoring just to get the tools I needed to move to the next level. This taught me my identity as a first-generation college student. Other important factors or representation and awareness followed. While my mom provided me at times with the strong representation of being an independent woman that I needed, she could not provide me with the representation of being a Black woman and the social encounters that came along with identifying as such. And while my father provided me with the representation of being a strong Black man and being a consistent presence in my upbringing and household, he still could not help me with some of the questions I had as a woman or regarding what lead him to not choosing to marry a Black woman and what that meant for me or what I may have represented?

From that point I had several other encounters and questions, including discussions with my mom due to her questioning why I was so obsessed with my hair and all the different hair products I had to try. Discussions on whether to straighten my hair or embrace my natural curl pattern. Eventually, to asking my mom for a perm, meaning straight relaxer, and her taking me to a lady at a salon who gave me a curly perm that made me look like a poodle, Jesus take the wheel, she tried and also learned throughout the process. Then came the additional layer of the kids in school and the ignorant people at stores who would ask if my mom was babysitting my brother and I or if we were adopted. Adding another layer of how Blackness is defined, as explained by peers, “well look at your nose, you’re definitely Black. And if your daddy’s Black, then you’re Black.” My mom still thought it was important to talk about this often as well as introduce several different books on race and being biracial such as: Why are people different, Mixed: My Life in Black and White by Angela Nissel, and movies such as Roots, Queen, and Imitation of Life, as well as many others including some on being a Tall women.

With height came another layer of representation and identity. As I grew to be 6’2, my mom being 5’7 and dad 5’10, more representation, not to mention clothes that fit, were needed! I identified with wonder women, and still to this day, and thought for the longest I was made out of clay and came from the beautiful statuesque Greek Amazonian women. My dad told me I reminded him a lot of my great grandmother, his grandmother, who was a taller Black woman and also said to have part of the Blackfeet Indian Nation ancestry. Finally, I found representation and another part of my identity as a women’s basketball player. Mainly because society told me I was tall so I should pick up a ball and try a sport (as if tall women weren’t good at anything else). With basketball also came the encounter in the sports culture of how I fit in to what was defined as a predominately Black sport and me meeting the criteria of predominately Black sports (i.e. Football, Basketball, and Track). I did actually come to love and enjoy playing and becoming a collegiate student-athlete, it provided another layer of representation that I needed, but at the same time, I didn’t want that identity to define me.

That’s where the music culture and singing provided another much-needed level of representation and support. Growing up on artists such as Sade, Anita Baker, Tamia, Deborah Cox, Whitney Houston, Yolanda Adams (She is also tall and statuesque), Mary Mary, Mariah Carey, Tracy Spencer, Prince, Terence Trent Darby, and the list goes on and on. Girl’s Assembly, Sports, and Music were the foundation of representation for me which guided me into the world of academia as a first-generation college student and towards an even greater need of representation that I didn’t know I would need. I found representation in and through my beautiful sorority sisters of, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.

As my journey continued towards the world of academia, and making the decision on what college to attend, I reflect on how I wish I had more support and representation at that time to guide me towards my college decision. I was being recruited by both HBCUs and PWIs and was faced with having to choose. At that time, I was only thinking about my student-athlete identity and ended up choosing Ohio University, a PWI. I am forever thankful for the journey and for my Bobcat family, however, I often wonder if my experience would have been different had I chosen an HBCU. I learned a lot about the importance of representation and self-awareness throughout this part of my life. As I soon found at a PWI more representation and support systems were needed outside of the athletic culture and identity, which often sheltered me from the Black college student life. At times I feel my growth in this area was stunted yet I found some solace in other ways like through my campus church, from which I was a member of the Praise and Worship team and was baptized through Fellowship of Christian Athletes. However, this added another layer of identity with being a woman leading in the church. Other levels of support and representation were through my amazing sisters and roommates. Two of which ran track and the other was a member of one of the Black dance teams on campus. The Black Student Union and Black Greek organizations on campus were also influential, however, I didn’t get to spend as much time exploring those supports due to being an athlete.

While being a collegiate student-athlete at a PWI, I recall another encounter from my coach who was white, telling my team that we weren’t tough enough (in my mind she was saying we weren’t Black enough) and added a comment stating, “why don’t we braid our hair or wear it in cornrows.” At the time, I wasn’t aware that I had experienced so many microaggressions throughout my journey. Later, as I became an injured student-athlete, my athletic trainer told me I should speak with a counselor due to my athletic identity coming to an abrupt end. It was at that time I learned how important representation and cultural competency matter as a practicing mental health provider. I remember it taking me so long to make an appointment to finally speak with a counselor. When I did, it was outside of the athletic department and in a place I was so unfamiliar with. It was also with a counselor that I felt didn’t have the slightest idea about my multiple identities and now former collegiate student-athlete. I remember leaving and not returning to counseling until years later in my developmental journey. I felt the rapport building would take too long and I didn’t want to have to spend that time assisting the counselor in getting to know the multiple layers that make me, me. I felt that I shouldn’t have to do that before getting to what the real issues and presenting concerns. The lack of representation and cultural competency poses a lot of barriers to help seeking. Journaling, prayer, and music got me through a lot during that time.

As I proceeded towards my academic journey of finishing my bachelor’s and both my master’s degrees. I noticed most of the professors and people in leadership positions were predominately white men, followed by white women, and if they were Black men, they were in Diversity, Equity and Inclusion roles or in the position of Recruitment and Retention of Black students, one of the roles I worked under as a Graduate Assistant. I found myself asking more questions as to why this was and still is? I also asked where the Black women in leadership and professor roles were, especially throughout Athletic departments, Sports management and Administration.

All of these critical moments led me towards having an experience as a substitute teacher in an elementary. It was during that time that I had a kid in my class stare at me and ask me about my background and my parents’ race. I was transparent and open with him. He became so excited and ran up to me in the hallway later in the day stating, “I'm mixed too” before proceeding to give me a high five. As to say, I have finally found someone in a leadership and supporting role that I can identify with.

Representation matters. This in no way takes away from or dismisses those of different race that supported me throughout my journey. What this does do is highlight the encounters and experiences along my journey are why representation matters and are so important to have. Also my why for pursuing a PhD. My why towards starting my own business and clinical practice called Developing ME! My why towards speaking up and advocating for representation throughout academia, athletic departments, leadership, and mental health centers. My why as a mother to two Black sons and a Black daughter to ensure there is more representation for them through me. The need for more representation made up my why for all of the moms, single moms, tall, Amazonian wonder women, Black, biracial, multicultural, third culture kids (TCK), military kids, first generation college students, as well as collegiate student-athletes, future leaders, advocates, business owners, mental health professionals, and doctoral students who are soon to be Doctors because, yes, representation matters!#selfacceptance #identity #representation #Black #biracial #multiracial #multicultural #firstgenerationcollegestudent #studentathlete #mytallgirlworld

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Excellent read! Thank you for sharing. Looking forward to future posts.

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