Embrace.

From Mel: This. Woman. You know when you meet someone and it's like discovering another part of yourself? That's how my time with Kimberly has been. Both fresh and familiar, kindred and awakening. Her story and journey are different than mine, and yet, there is an invitation to look at things and to deepen into awareness, advocacy and the current civil rights movement. I can't explain it but it feels like returning home. 

From Kimberly: I’ve felt an urging from God recently, to share my story. He hasn’t given me an exact idea as to how this should look, but I just know that it is something I need to do for my own healing and hopefully to give others hope and encouragement.

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I have never felt confident in who I am…recently though, I’ve felt more empowered by God to speak up and feel comfortable in my own skin, what I believe, the ways in which He created me. I struggled for the longest in terms of my ethnic identity and feeling not good enough or pretty enough as a black female. I have a white mom and a black father and I was raised largely in the dominant white culture in a suburb of St Louis. 

As a child, I clung dearly to my identity as a biracial person, not wanting to deny a piece of who I am. When I was young, I did whatever I could to fit into the dominant culture and really to just blend in. I never felt as if I fit in or as if I would be fully accepted if I acted too “black.” Now, as I draw closer to the end of my 30s and as I more fully embrace who I am as a black woman, created in the image of God, I find myself feeling more confident than ever and I am slowly able to see myself differently and as worthy, despite my dark eyes, brown skin, and my so called “bad” hair. 

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Being a black woman has meant recognizing that cultural differences that many in society see as "bad" are actually beautiful and that I can embrace them. It means being proud of my brown skin, my curly hair, the unbelievable strength of my ancestors and what my people have endured, not just hundreds of years ago, but today. It's sparked an interest in gaining a better understanding of my history. Today I love having big dark brown eyes and I appreciate my curl pattern. I no longer long to have straight silky hair or to be deemed as beautiful by a society that largely does not value my blackness. I find joy and strength in identifying as a black woman.

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I now feel empowered to speak up on behalf of my brothers and sisters of color. I fully recognize that I have benefitted greatly from privilege associated with having a white parent and being biracial. I try to use that privilege in a meaningful way that benefits others without voices that are heard as loudly. Some days, it’s exhausting though because while many people only notice racism when they see things such as #Charlottesville, people of color experience it every single day, overtly, systematically, and everywhere. For the most part, I strive to help people who seem at least somewhat teachable. I try to come from a place of love, because truthfully, it breaks my heart to think that fellow human beings could go through their entire life being blind to the oppression their brothers and sisters face. I have to proceed with caution though because sometimes the combo of  experiencing injustice, speaking up against it, and having my lived experiences denied or minimized is too much. Sometimes, it begins to take a physical toll on me and I have to recognize when this is happening and engage in self care. Sometimes I suck at forgiving and just feel exhausted by it all. These are the times I need a break. 

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None of this is to say that I have arrived or that I don’t doubt myself daily. I still struggle with being overly critical of myself and avoiding looking at myself in the mirror. I am still working to embrace my blackness and understand this huge piece of who I am. I love looking back though and seeing the unexpected gift that God has given me in opening up my eyes to what being a black woman means for me. This has also informed the way in which I parent and how I will teach my daughter to embrace and love her identity as a woman of color.

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As the mother of a brown child, I find that I have to be incredibly self-aware that I don't project my own experiences onto my daughter. It is immensely important to me that she is proud to be a woman of color from a young age and that as her mom, I give her the tools to be able to do this. I must be intentional in considering what her world look like? Does she have racial mirrors in her school, church, books, toys, etc? I recognize the beauty in the color of her skin, and hair, and eyes, but I have to be careful not to place too much of my own angst onto her. Because she is racially ambiguous, I also get random questions/statements from strangers: "What is she? Well it's good she blends in. How is her hair so straight?" 

Those can be hard to swallow and I'm not always as gracious as I'd hope to be. I worry for her that she will struggle with feeling as if she does not fit in, like I did, which again is where I come back to the importance of encouraging her to embrace all of who she is and making sure that she is surrounded by other strong women of color.

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Some days, I still feel alone and misunderstood on this journey...but God. He has given me such a gift in allowing me to dive deep into figuring out who I am. He has put me in this desert city and placed some amazing queens in my life, who formally and informally have become my mentors and examples of what a strong and confident [black] woman looks like. They are beautiful, funny, smart, strong, and courageous, women, that have taught me so much. I laugh sometimes that God has given me this unexpected gift in Phoenix off all places (the most recent census bureau report shows Phoenix having an African American population of about 6.5%). 

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I hope my words encourage someone to embrace who they are and to learn more about themselves. I hope that others who struggle with loving themselves just as they are and as God created them, can move closer to seeing themselves as God does. 

I celebrate my uniqueness and imperfection. My voice is worth hearing. I have a unique and important perspective to share. I am worthy.