I’m mixed-race and developing a strong sense of myself as a Black woman. For most of my life, though, I felt very white; so much so, that I barely recognized I was putting my Blackness at arm’s length because I had been doing it for so long.
I grew up in the suburbs of Boston and graduated from public high school with a class of students who were mostly white. There were some students of color, either from town or bussed in through METCO, but I didn’t know any of them beyond a surface level. Race was never brought up and discussed in a serious way. Deep down, I knew there were worlds outside of the white one I was used to, full of discoveries and opportunities for learning. I also knew this process would change me, and that was a frightening prospect. It took years to move out of my comfort zones to get to those worlds so I could learn how to embrace both parts of myself equally.
It happened at a gradual, but steady pace. I’m grateful my alma mater was one of the most diverse state universities in Massachusetts, which set me on a path to understanding much more about myself, and enabled me to develop deep, lasting friendships with Black, mixed, and other people of color, at school and beyond.
Five years after graduating, I’m living back in the suburbs, in a town bordering the one I grew up in. Although the environment is mostly the same, my relationship to it couldn’t be more different. I consciously choose to learn about other cultures and meet new people who may not look like my neighbors as often as I can. In this way, I feel as though I spend more time out of my town than in it. Sometimes, this happens online: listening to podcasts, reading Twitter feeds, or watching YouTube videos made by Black and brown folks. More and more, though, I am traveling to make friends with people of color at all types of events.
Getting to know people face-to-face, in real time – especially other Black women I look up to – revealed how many ways there are to be a person of color, and that heritage is valid no matter how you may feel in a moment. Here are a handful of events I’ve attended over the years that have made an impact on me:
Modeling at a photo shoot celebrating Black girls was my first time being in a room with only other people of color, and I was nervous, but all of the girls were very sweet and welcoming.
Lesson learned: Don’t be afraid to go to new situations where you feel unsure at first. You are okay just as you are.
Being interviewed by a Black female Ph.D. student who was conducting research on interracial relationships. We had an illuminating conversation, and she encouraged me when I told her I was struggling to feel valid as a Black woman.
Lesson learned: Whatever doubts or fears you’re experiencing, plenty of other people share them as well. You aren’t alone.
Reaching out to the owner of a media company on LinkedIn, which led to a great phone conversation, and later, a guest spot on a podcast she co-hosts. This was my first time opening up about my racial identity in an audio interview.
Lesson learned: Speak to (or message) intriguing people that share the same interests as you. You never know what may come of it.
Attending a networking, fashion, art, and dance event with someone I went to high school with but didn’t know well until we reconnected after college. It turns out we have a lot in common, and he is now one of my best friends.
Lesson learned: Sometimes unexpected friendships grow when they finally have the right circumstances to bloom. Keep your mind open.
These days, I am much more at ease in a room full of people of color and secure in my Black identity, which have been invaluable gifts in my life. If you don’t live in a diverse area, I believe it’s worth investing the time and money, if possible, to travel to a place where you can find those spaces and make new relationships that will help you grow.
Here’s a list of five upcoming events in major U.S. cities you can attend, which are just a handful of the many that exist. Go to one that’s in your area, or do some searching of your own!
Fierce Urgency of Now is a six-day festival for millennials of color in Boston, featuring 30 events, numerous organizations, and a chance to connect with peers who live in the community and share some of the same challenges, dreams, and hopes.
WHEN: September 20 – 25
WHERE: Various locations
The Bureau’s Pop-up Coworking Experience for People of Color offers an opportunity to be productive alongside other ambitious professionals in a relaxed space, with a mission to “foster meaningful relationships” between people of color.
WHEN: September 20, 1:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
WHERE: Cafe Jax
The purpose of TechTalk: People of Color and Women in Tech is to inspire these underrepresented demographics to consider joining the tech industry, and will feature panelists speaking about their various career journeys and perspectives.
WHEN: September 19, 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
WHERE: Mind + Hand
Melanin Yoga Project Expo is a one-day event of workshops, lectures, and more, which will provide information about starting or expanding a yoga practice. Melanin Yoga Project is a nonprofit that connects people of color through yoga, wellness, and mindfulness.
WHEN: October 6, 9 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.
WHERE: Good Hope Missionary Baptist Church
Go deeper at the Emotional Wellness for Women and People of Color event, which includes networking, a panel, and program focused on recognizing and proactively addressing feelings as they arise, as well as building a community of supportive friends.
WHEN: October 3, 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
WHERE: WeWork Gas Tower