To Be Seen
In 2012, I transferred to a historically black women’s college. There I knew I would meet “them”. My women who ran with wolves, my best-friends, my flossy posse that would help make my college experience spontaneous and worthwhile! And there they were. As our friendship began, I was confronted with a reality—this would be work. I had to be “seen”. How easy others made it look. Yeah, I would have to peel back layers and offer my sisters the most authentic version of myself. I can chuckle now, but at the time I disliked those self-reflective interrogation sessions they forced me into. We called them “sister chats”. “Who are you?” “Who are you aside from your family?” “No, why do you seriously want to become a teacher?” “How did that make you feel?”
I think another hurdle for me was releasing myself to be seen. Up until college, I had been the sister-friend interrogating others, bypassing the hard questions, disappearing to the back of the room, and I was good at it. Yet with this circle of women, that just wouldn’t work. They wanted the real me—genuinely. Slowly, I started to allow myself to be seen and they gave themselves permission to become my family. They affirmed me, corrected me, prayed for me, created fun memories with me. In the purest form, I am reminded that this is love—God’s love; and that as we journey through womanhood, we need sister-friends who see us and love us whole. Sister-friends who challenge us to unmask ourselves and be seen by those God has called into our lives.
“Seeing another woman for who she is, is powerful.
So powerful that I think it might be underrated.”
-Shemiah K. Curry
To See Others
We did the unthinkable in college. We led a school-wide protest; my friends and me! Initially I wanted to quit, but I just couldn’t. I was glued to this situation because I knew my college sisters deserved better. Simple things like fresh fruit in the cafeteria, a stable internet connection, and timely communication from administration. Transferring from a predominately white institution to now a small black liberal arts institution made me aware of the drastic differences in resources between those that are deemed “affluent” and those “surviving” colleges. Either the students benefit from the affluence or they suffer from the lack-their-of. Unfortunately, some of the students at my school were struggling.
From the first-generation student and the foster care student, to the boisterous girl in the cafeteria—my friends and I carried their stories of resilience with us. The more we listened, the more passionate we became. Soon we found ourselves, a bunch of 20-year-olds, scrambling into a dorm room secretly constructing a proposal for administration. We wanted to provide our sisters with the best college experience by finding solutions to these issues. The sleepless nights and early mornings became sneeringly welcomed. Tired, but passionate. Our sisters’ stories became our light and soon we were “fired up and ready to go”. Our sisters needed to know someone was thinking about them and fighting for them. And because we saw them, they rallied almost a 100 strong at the protest. Seeing other women for who they are means building relationships. It means understanding we are stronger united, than we are divided. The success of this protest was not merely based on our grit, but on the relationships we built. We saw those women.
Being Seen Too Much
Senior year I was elected student body president. I felt called to lead and I knew I could do it. My college sisters had affirmed me; they saw me, and I was grateful for that. As my tenure kicked off, I became overwhelmed with the professional and personal demands of my life. I was leading a cabinet on a small historically black college campus which meant we were working twice as hard, with less resources. Hasn’t that been the black woman’s experience though? “Work twice as hard.” “Use what you have, to do what you need to do.” In hindsight, I am grateful for those lessons because they prepared me for the workplace. However, in those moments I thought they were going to destroy me. I wondered if anyone could see me then….Could my parents, my college sisters? I was sinking. Extended nights, board meetings, student teaching, graduate applications. Did another sister see me and say, “Girl, sit down”? Probably, but I was ambitious. I had a goal: I couldn’t fail my school and I couldn’t fail my peers (not on my watch).
In retrospect, I may have been blinded by my goal (ouch, that was unhealthy). For this reason, I now know my blindness, my ambition caused me to me be seen too much. I should’ve hidden in my dorm room more often and said “no” to visitors. I should’ve protected my sleep more often and taken a weekend trip to rejuvenate. I should’ve protected my peace. None of that happened though. I said “yes” to almost EVERYTHING and we know the ending to this narrative. Burn out. Following my graduation ceremony and dinner, I laid desolate on my friend’s couch somewhat battling a cold. I couldn’t fully enjoy one of the most rewarding days of my life because plainly put- I was exhausted.
Four years later, I encourage myself to make sure that I am aware of my work habits and friendships. How is one affecting the other? How are the two coinciding? Rozella Haydée White says it best, “You will attract the health or disease that you embody when it comes to relationships.” So, in this current season of my life I am vigilant. I’ve learned that when I am exhausted, my friendships will suffer and when I am balanced, my friendships will thrive.
To the women who see themselves, who see others, and who sometimes are seen just too much- I love you! This world is a better place because of your sisterhood and your strength. Continue to do what God has called you to do.
Happy Women’s History Month!