What January 20th Means to Me

It’s midnight on January 20, 2017, and I should be elated because today is my birthday. Instead, I am actively fighting feelings of devastation and loss. I feel like I’ve been robbed of my hope and my identity. You see, I’ve come of age as a young Black American during the election and leadership of the first Black President of the United States. Like so many others, I feel as if he and I have a deep friendship, and I remember our best moments like they were yesterday: casting my ballot for him in the first election in which I was old enough to vote; witnessing Joe Biden come to my university for the Vice Presidential debates; and jumping for joy when I realized Barack Obama would be inaugurated on my 19th birthday…



That day, January 20, 2009 was the best day of my life. I had traveled to Washington D.C. without my family (a big milestone for a teenager) in order to witness history being made. I huddled with complete strangers in frigid temperatures on the National Mall, sang Negro spirituals, and waited for the sun to rise and the inauguration of our first Black President to begin. When daylight finally came, and the ceremony started, my heart was filled with joy. My ancestors had not suffered in vain. America was our country, too. We were included in the American dream… these emotions combined with the fresh hope of turning a year older were pure magic.


This magic of President Obama has continued every day for me since. How lucky I have felt. How hopeful I have felt. How included I have felt. How American I have felt. Now it feels as if the incoming president is taking the magic away… I turn 27 today… I mourn today… but we persevere. I choose to remember the strength of my people and my life-changing experience during the inauguration of President Barack Obama instead.


I Do Not Weep at the World

My militant mother and immigrant father taught me I am a citizen of the world above any other affiliation. My concept of love and my sense of unity has never known the arbitrary bounds of man-made borders, and I was never raised to depend on our political or legal institutions neither here nor abroad to derive a sense of freedom or self-worth.


The happenings of November 8th, 2016 change nothing about my identity and to those whose voices cry out in fear and pain today, this is what I know to be true: our freedom comes from within. Politics are not what make us free. Belief in our inalienable civil rights, our love for ourselves, and our love for all others in the face of hate and injustice is our source of freedom.


My father who grew up poor in a war-torn nation always says to me, “People can take things from you. But they cannot take away what is in your mind.” My mind found comfort in the voice of Zora Neale Hurston today — Black Feminist writer from the Harlem Renaissance who lived in an era of overt sexism and racism — an era that feels all too familiar in 2016. She wrote:


  • “Sometimes, I feel discriminated against, but it does not make me angry. It merely astonishes me. How can any deny themselves the pleasure of my company? It is beyond me.”

As mentioned in a previous post, Hurston also said:

  • “I am not tragically colored. There is no great sorrow dammed up in my soul, nor lurking behind my eyes. I do not mind at all. I do not belong to that sobbing school of Negrohood who hold that nature somehow has given them a lowdown dirty deal. Even in the helter-skelter skirmish that is my life, I have seen that the world is to the strong regardless of a little pigmentation more or less. No, I do not weep at the world — I am too busy sharpening my oyster knife.”


To all my Female, Black, Brown, LGBTQ, and Immigrant brothers and sisters, and to all our countless allies: no one can kill your heart, your spirit, or your mind. It is my hope that this message brings you comfort. At the same time I recognize I am saying this while enjoying inordinate amounts of privilege: I look to the future without fear of my basic needs of food, shelter, and security not being met; my family members are not at risk of deportation under a new leader; my access to health care and birth control are not in danger. The pain, suffering, and fear our community is feeling is beyond valid and real. It is my (perhaps arrogant) desire that a message of internal freedom can bring a bit of peace. Meanwhile, I’m getting up. No depression or immobilization for me. I must wield my privilege in service of building a more inclusive and safer planet for all.


Oyster knife up.

Photo by Ashley Soong

How to Raise a Militant Black Girl: A Tribute to My Mother

If you grew up with a black face in a white place, you probably know what it’s like to have your psyche subconsciously barraged with the message that you aren’t good enough. It’s been happening since before you were old enough to talk. The beige Crayola crayon named “flesh tone” was the first offender. After that it was the black Barbie with bone straight tresses that looked nothing like the hair on your own wooly head. Then it was the arts and crafts projects in school. You know, the ones where you make white angels and white Santas and white elves out of popsicle sticks to bring home and hang on your Christmas tree, so you can stare up at them under the twinkling holiday lights with awe and wonder, their beautiful whiteness shining down on your little black girl face.


A few Disney princess movies later where none of the characters look like you; a couple teen magazines with beauty tips that never seem to apply to black girls; one too many pairs of jeans you have to wear with a belt because they’re made for girls without round rear ends and might fall off any minute; and many required school reading lists with no black authors and no black characters in sight, you’ve successfully internalized that you do not meet the standard. The standard of beauty, the standard of creativity, or the standard of scholarship.


So what is the mother of a little black girl to do? She wants what every mother wants: for her baby to be happy and healthy. But in a mother’s effort to give her daughter more opportunity, more safety, and more resources than she had growing up, she finds her baby living in a white neighborhood, going to a predominantly white school, and inevitably consuming a culture that (usually subconsciously but also purposefully) celebrates whiteness without acknowledging or appreciating blackness. Because of our nation’s history of inequality across multiple factors, white places correlate with the good life. So how can a mother ensure her little black girl can thrive in these often psychologically damaging conditions?


Raise her to be militant. To be militant is to aggressively fight for a cause, and the cause worth fighting for is Black Confidence. To vote in spite of voter ID laws is militant. To read a book of our history in spite of its absence from our standard curriculum is militant. To graduate from college in spite of generations of institutionalized racism is militant. To own a home in spite of centuries of housing discrimination is militant. To speak her mind in spite of being the sole voice in the room with her opinions is militant. To be happy in spite of the dominant culture benefitting from her disenfranchisement, is militant.


I’ve been blessed with an Afrocentric mother who has managed to instill Black Confidence in me while living in predominantly-white environments. Her parenting is how I made it through growing up in Topeka, Kansas, going to prep school in New England, and later working in a small town that is literally built around the statue of a Confederate soldier. Her parenting is how I am able to see my presence in these spaces as a privilege and not a burden. Her parenting is how I am able to relate to a diverse set of friends, mentors, and colleagues instead of clinging to just one race or the other. Her parenting is why I had the audacity to believe I could go to college, start a business, and get an MBA.


She’s known all along that teaching me Black Confidence was a necessity for self-preservation, as well as a skill for navigating through school, my career, and my life. It’s the sweetest gift she’s ever given me. It’s my main tool for success: self-love, self-acceptance and self-esteem. So here’s my attempt to capture her methods, so that other little black girls can grow, thrive, and become the happy black women they deserve to be.

  • Start early by exposing her to media and entertainment that shows her that blackness is good. The movies I watched growing up featured African Princesses, African folklore, and black nuclear families. The villains were often dressed in white instead of black so that I would not internalize blackness to mean evil. My children’s books re-wrote whitewashed culture so I could feel included. The story of Dreadlocks and the Three Bears was a particular favorite, and saved me from having to wonder why kids like me never got to have books written about them, or got to go on fantastical adventures in the movies.


  • Use every school project as an opportunity to teach her our history. For any assignment where I got to choose my topic of study from kindergarten to 8th grade, my mother would quickly search through the Encyclopedia Africana and present me with a list of black history-makers to choose from. I learned about Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. DuBois, Mary McLeod Bethune, Desmond Tutu, Madam C.J. Walker and more. As I got older, I started finding black people in history on my own, and choosing my own topics, titles, and stories to share. My mom helped me find my voice, and discover my identity through the true stories of those that fought for the privileges I enjoy today.


  • Hang pictures, art, and quotes in your home that remind her how beautiful, smart, and talented black people are. This is a powerful way to teach children Black Confidence from an early age; it’s the same mechanism by which the dominant culture often damages the young black psyche: slowly, subconsciously, and with repetition. My favorite picture my mom hung in our home growing up was in the most mundane and inconspicuous of places: the bathroom. It featured Zora Neale Hurston, smiling in a fabulous hat next to a quote that began, “I am not tragically colored. There is no great sorrow dammed up in my soul, nor lurking behind my eyes. I do not mind at all…” This type of uplifting imagery and prose that decorated our house helped counteract all the messages I received that told me to feel otherwise. And every time I visited the bathroom, Zora reminded me gently and with frequency that my blackness was not a handicap.


  • Partner with other parents raising multicultural children in challenging environments. You don’t have to go it alone. My mother found joy and solidarity in building community among the few families of color in our area: organizing play dates, a book club, and even trips to attend conferences on the topic of increasing diversity in independent schools and higher institutions. I can think of no better way to teach Black Confidence than by being happy and confident yourself, working alongside other parents with similar concerns for their kids.


  • And finally, don’t stop fighting. Ever. Even when your daughter is mad at you for making her be Cleopatra instead of Snow White on Halloween; or when she shrinks with embarrassment because you’re wearing kente cloth to the school play again; or when she rolls her eyes at you for complaining to her 5th grade teacher about how short the Civil Rights lesson was. Don’t quit.


You’re raising a Warrior, and one day she’ll understand.
Love you, Mom.


Photo and styling by Gus Bennett

Make a Difference in the World

Every day I am more grateful, more humbled, and more inspired at business school. It’s nearly impossible to summarize all that has happened in my life over the past 5 months; a blog post simply cannot accurately describe how transformational transitioning from corporate life in a small town to a truly global business school has been for me. But I’ll try, because it feels like every moment that passes I want to write it down, record it, or photograph it so I can hold on to the precious memories forever.


My life is now frequented by awe-inspiring moments daily, and my heart is just so full. Moments like the time one of my fellow students came out for the first time to our class because he discovered America was more tolerant of homosexuality than his home country; like the time another student told me about the 7 businesses she owns in an effort to transform health care and cure diseases around the world; or the time I witnessed another student bravely walk to the board during a lecture and teach the 94-person class a new concept at the professor’s request.


It never escapes me for one moment that these experiences are made possible by many others. My parents, for one, are graciously taking care of my dog while I am in school so that I can study without distraction. Not to mention all the other wonderful things they have done to get me here, like provide me with a supportive and loving home as well as every educational opportunity throughout the years so that I could pursue my goals without limits. Thank you. My brothers and sister, thank you. My uncles and cousins, thank you. My grandparents that somehow made a way through extreme poverty and civil war on one side, and the economic slavery of sharecropping on the other, thank you. And of course every woman and every black person that paved the way in higher education so that the doors of this institution could even be open to me. I stand on their shoulders. I look around me in amazement. I rub my eyes and blink twice to make sure it is all real. Thank you.


I am most grateful for the time I have in the classroom learning from Section B. In order to make my rather large business school feel smaller, we are divided into 10 groups of 94 students called Sections. Sections have been a tradition for many generations here, and become your family for life. I was assigned to Section B. No, I was BORN to be a B, (haha) and have found myself building incredible bonds with my sectionmates. We spend every class together, and numerous, plentiful, bountiful, raging social events together. I swear, I need help managing my social calendar just as much as my academic one. But eh, what can you do. It’s hard to explain, but just trust me when I say spending every day socializing, and every day discussing (via the case method) tough business, ethical, and leadership problems with the same 94 people for ~4 months challenges you, builds you up, breaks you down, and gives you the tools to be a clearer thinker, better human and stronger leader like nothing else in this world. And it is almost never easy.


If I could boil it all down to one word it would be that business school has made me more brave. I am a bit younger and less experienced than many of the other students, and I would be lying if I made everything sound like it has been smiles and rainbows. I’ve been intimidated, frightened, and doubtful of myself often. Sometimes going to classes with the top business talent in the world makes me question the Admissions Office’s decision to let me in here. I can get so riddled with insecurities when I hear my classmates make brilliant comments that go waaaay over my head, but my Section B experience is helping me to see more and more that I have good ideas to bring to the table, too and that I can contribute to others’ learning as much as they do mine. Somehow (miraculously) I have been able to keep up, and when I find myself completely lost during a case discussion, I know there are experts in my section that I can ask for help. Contrary to common belief, the business students at my school are incredibly giving, encouraging, and helpful toward each other. For this I am so grateful. Because without their support, I couldn’t get my brave on, overcome my fears, and grow.



Sunset over Oia, Santorini, Greek Island


Getting my brave on has had amazing consequences and led me to the plethora of awe-inspiring moments I am so grateful for. Hands down, the most fun opportunity I have had to be brave occurred before classes started when I traveled to Greece with ~10 other students. Not only was it my first time traveling to an international destination by myself, but I was also meeting up with 10 people I had never met. Many day beach parties, night parties, infinity pools, and beautiful Grecian vistas later, I was so glad I took the leap of faith and went on the trip.


I’ve also been brave enough to audaciously think I could take on a few leadership roles in a student body of such amazing achievers. One of the promises I made to myself before coming to school was that I would “do something creative with my life and feed my artistic soul.” I’ve managed to make that happen as the director of social media for the Retail and Luxury Goods Club (a student club at the business school). I’ve had the opportunity to flex my creativity with fun social posts, and even participated in the club’s fashion show. The other promise I made to myself was that I would “go back to Africa and positively impact my father’s homeland.” So far, I’ve managed to stay on track with this goal by getting involved with the Africa Business Club on campus. As their VP of Technology, not only do I get to use my creative skills to build and manage their websites, but I also stay in the know about recruiting opportunities located in Africa. All in all, these leadership roles have been about serving the business school community in ways that I am genuinely interested in. I am so glad I was brave, and didn’t listen to the little voice in my head at the beginning of the year that told me I couldn’t possibly lead anything in a population of such talented students.


Walking in the Retail & Luxury Goods Club Fashion Show

Walking in the Retail & Luxury Goods Club Fashion Show


Getting my brave on has also meant standing up for what I believe in, finding my voice, and solidifying my identity as a proud African-American woman. The recent deaths of Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, and Michael Brown (in St. Louis, the city of my alma mater) have overwhelmed me with every spectrum of grief. The assault on the African American psyche that is represented by their unjust deaths is nearly paralyzing. I fear every day for my brothers, who are tall, dark, and according to society, therefore menacing. One of my brothers was stopped by the police in front of my parent’s house not too long ago and and accused of being in the wrong neighborhood. Thank God he had his I.D. with him, and the police let him go. But the deeply saddening reality of the world we live in as American minorities is that many people assume my family, my father, and my young adult brothers in particular are menaces to society simply because of how they look. Intolerance is pervasive. A lack of appreciation for black life is pervasive.


I owe it to my brothers, to my future children, and to every minority that has made my life of privilege possible, to speak out against racially-motivated police brutality and drive change. One could say that I have grown rather “militant” in social media, posting inspiring civil rights quotes from Thoreau to Lincoln to Martin Luther King. I’ve posted statistics proving the unjust pattern of black male death at the hands of policemen. And I’ve condemned the justice system that is failing to protect the men and women in this country who look like me.


In the thralls of deep sadness and anger over the situation, I have been challenged by my fellow students to be calm and logical in my response to current events. The classroom and the case method has taught me how to respectfully disagree and engage in fruitful debates with people who hold opinions different from mine. The classroom has also taught me that I can gain so much from others’ perspective. So as I seek to drive change, I have promised myself to do so by being open about my opinions, but to share them in a respectful manner. I am learning to be brave and not shy away from the tough conversations about race. I am discovering how to engage in even-handed, fact-based, give-and-take dialogue.


Perhaps more importantly, I am learning how to partner with my fellow students to make a difference. My school promises to teach leaders that will “make a difference in the world,” and by working together to organize a vigil for Mike Brown, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, and Trayvon Martin; by working together to tell each other’s stories facing racial discrimination in America (even as students at a prestigious business school) and by setting plans to develop a business response to systematic racism in America, I am already seeing how together, the student leaders around me will make a difference in the world and will make the U.S. a more racially tolerant place.


So what’s next? First semester is winding to a close, marked by a few tough final exams before heading off for the holidays. In the spirit of getting my brave on, I’m traveling independently internationally again! This time, to Kampala, Uganda to spend Christmas with my Aunt and discover with my own eyes where I come from for the first time. What better way to chart my path forward to the new year and a second semester at school than to go back to my roots? I am also planning adventures in Marrakech, Morocco, as well as a course through school in Casablanca, Morocco.The plan is to return from Africa with a deeper understanding of the continent and with more tools under my belt with which to make a difference in the world. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Today is the Tomorrow I Was Waiting for Yesterday

I come from a family where education is THE most important thing. My father is an immigrant from South Sudan who achieved the American Dream thanks to his education. My mother is an African American with a rich history of generations of hard work and upward mobility because of education. Which leaves my sister, brother and me with the incredible gift of two parents that have loved, supported, and allowed us to reach for the stars academically. So, no surprise I am weeks away from entering business school.


I’m Type-A, eager to please my parents, and always follow the rules. As such, grades and achievement have been my focus for as long as I can remember. In kindergarten, I was the kid that shushed the other kids when they were being too loud. And being named “Teacher’s Pet” was my crown of glory. (To all my grade school classmates, I apologize.) Later on in high school, I developed an interest in studying business and kept my sights on a marketing career. This was parent-approved, and thus b school is in my future.


It was not until later in life that I learned my mom had been approached on multiple occasions when I was growing up about making me a model. She turned down or ignored these suggestions, believing that modeling emphasized the wrong values, and that my self esteem as a young lady could not withstand it. She was probably right.

Perhaps most importantly, pursuing more artistic careers like modeling, painting, or acting was not encouraged by my father. Sure, he paid for dance lessons, violin lessons, singing lessons; anything to make my siblings and I well-rounded people who understand and appreciate the arts. But his number 1 priority has always been to raise us as self-sufficient adults with solid careers.


In so many ways, my dad is right. He did not come to America for his kids to risk becoming starving artists. But there has always been this restless artist inside of me, hungry for something more than 50 years spent accumulating personal wealth as a corporate employee in a cube farm. I have an appreciation for beauty in the world, and in others. I possess a deep desire to return to my father’s homeland and make my life worth something for the millions of people in war-torn societies there. I’m creative. Music is my lifeblood. And the direction my life has been headed cut these parts out of me. I have been stifled by the rules of the capitalist game I play so well: lifetime success as defined by the size of my financial rewards from a “good job.”


Dabbling in modeling has awoken the artist in me and a desire to do something great. Like I’ve been living life inside a box, seeing everything in black and white, afraid to color outside the lines with that fuchsia colored crayon I love so much. Afraid to have dreams bigger than the cubical I spent the past 2 years working in. Education will still be the most important thing in my life, but the way I choose to wield it has officially changed. I’m dreaming now, and taking action every day to make those dreams come true:

  • I will do something creative with my life, and feed my artistic soul.
  • I will go back to Africa and positively impact my father’s homeland.
  • I will live with no regrets.

So here goes.