The World is Bigger than You and Me
Growing up in Decatur, Georgia, 15 minutes from the state's capital, Atlanta, also known as the "Black Mecca," I was engrossed in the Black culture defined by both the MLK Center and Underground Atlanta. My mother and father raised my siblings and me in a neighborhood that my grandfather built. All I ever knew was a community of hardworking and loving Black people from school, church, etc.
In Atlanta's heart sits the Atlanta University Center Consortium Inc. (AUC) made up of four prominent historically Black colleges and universities - Clark Atlanta University, Morris Brown College, Morehouse College, and Spelman College. My father, Dale, is a graduate of both Morehouse College and CAU, while my sister Jasmine and cousins attended the illustrious Spelman College.
I was sure to be next in line to attend an HBCU. My father even bought me Spelman College pajamas when I was a junior in high school. I loved and love everything about being Black, and anything representing the African-American experience. But my mother, Patricia, who attended the University of Georgia in the 70s, told me "the world isn't just filled with people who look like me and you."
While I was eager to be around people in my community, I felt the need to step out of my comfort zone and explore cultures, identities, and experiences outside of my own. After graduating from Southwest DeKalb High School - a predominately Black school, staffed with Black teachers and donning a list of famous Afro-American alumni, I decided to take a six-month break to figure out what I wanted to do next.
I attended community college before I finally decided to apply to Georgia State University.
My father and sister were somewhat disappointed by my choice, but still applauded me for furthering my education. I knew that if I wasn't happy with my experience, I could always transfer.
At GSU, I threw myself into extra-curricular activities like EmpowHER, a women's organization on campus. I also connected with my Black community through the GSU National Association of Black Journalists student chapter and College Girls Rock.
I had professors who came from diverse backgrounds, and I shared the classroom with people of other nationalities and from all walks of life. We learned from each other and we all got along, but I felt like something was still missing from my having a more rich diverse experience.
It wasn't until my junior year that I got to immerse myself in a whole new world. I participated in the school's European Hospitality Experience Study Abroad trip, visiting Germany, Switzerland, Italy, and France. My travel companions were a diverse group, coming from various races and cultural backgrounds. We learned about one another, shopped together, visited museums and libraries, and broke bread with one another.
I was able to share with them the music I grew up listening to, the food I like to eat, and the list goes on. We learned about each other's different experiences, cultures, perspectives, and views on life. I understood the value of listening to other people and learning from them, and through conversations, I found a way to connect with them.
After graduating from Georgia State University with a B.A. in Journalism, I freelanced for several Black-owned publications, including the Atlanta Voice and the Atlanta Black Star, where oppressed voices are amplified. One day, I applied for a full-time entertainment reporter position at the Des Moines Register in Iowa. I didn't expect to hear anything back, but I was selected to join the newsroom staff team, where I could offer my expertise in entertainment and a perspective of a Black person and woman in American society. I've been at the Register for a year and a half now, sharing views with people who don't look or think like me, but we all abide by one crucial rule--everyone's voice deserves to be heard.
Not only have I been able to report on stories of people in my community, for example, the disproportionately negative effects of COVID-19 on Black people, but also on how other communities in Iowa feel about a range of topics and issues that not only hit close to home, but around the world.
My colleagues and I consult each other, share opinions and differing perspectives, and give feedback to one another. We don't have all the answers, but it's a step in the right direction when it comes to diversity and inclusion in the newsroom. We've hosted virtual events like Juneteenth on June 19 to commemorate the emancipation of those who had been enslaved in the United States. Everyone was engaged and participated.
I also wrote a piece highlighting the importance of Dia de los Muertos or Day of the Dead, a Mexican holiday celebrated on November 1st and 2nd to pray and remember family and friends who have died.
Now, the Register staff even has a Diversity and Inclusion Committee that creates opportunities for us to learn more about different communities and how we can ensure that their voices are heard and not be excluded from our paper.
While being away from home and family has been challenging for me, I know it won't be in vain. The lesson in all of this is to be proud of who you are, your community, and where you come from, but also to remember that experience is the best teacher in life. I've learned that if you want to learn more about the world and understand the people in it, you need to diversify your surroundings and circle of friends. With this in mind, I am becoming a global citizen.