It took a while for me to find my community as a woman and a mother. But every step along the way I became more and more convinced of its importance.
I left home for college at 17 and moved to a city where I knew no one. I grew up in a small town and living in Los Angeles for the first time was intimidating, and overwhelming. Everything felt as difficult as making a left turn onto Pico from LaBrea - like a game of chicken, or roulette, but with horns screeching loudly behind me. And attending a predominantly white institution was even more disorienting. All I remember thinking was, WHERE ARE ALL MY PEOPLE??? But then I met three Black women who made me feel safe, and loved, and I knew that I'd be alright. Because I had sisterhood. We would eat together, go to games and events together, take beach days, get piercings and tattoos together, walk each other back to the dorms at night, run interference with overzealous men when necessary, and stick up for each other when the rich girls made us feel bad for having Hot Pockets again 😒. It may seem menial or unimportant when reduced to these small interactions, but as a 17-year-old skinny Black girl all alone living in south central Los Angeles, these women became my refuge. They became home.
Fast forward a couple of years - I had my first child at 20, while still in undergrad, and became lost once again. I can still remember walking into my 9 am advanced writing course, six months pregnant, while all of the other students (and professor) stared at me in disgust. Was it because I was pregnant? Young and pregnant? Young, Black and pregnant? Not sure. But I’d often leave that class to throw up my breakfast (by the way, I still can’t stomach apple cinnamon oatmeal thanks to pregnancy). In retrospect, I’m not sure if I was nauseous from morning sickness or the disease of imposter syndrome. But never have I ever felt more deeply that I did not belong. However, as fate would have it, I was saved again. This time by a group of Black women who were older and had already survived the glaring judgement that comes with Black motherhood in white spaces. So they poured into me, and I graduated - despite nearly everyone's doubts - and I promptly went to grad school while working as a copywriter for a large media company. Take that, Writing 340 professor.
From then on, I learned the power of intention in making connections and forming community. But it still took me a while to realize that it was never about the quantity of people in my corner, but the quality of those people.
I committed to myself during this “work-from-home-while-going-to-grad-school-from-home-while-also-raising-small-children-from-home” phase that I would stay connected to community by any means necessary. I learned the hard way that in motherhood, and in life, there are no trophies for doing it all by myself (unless under-eye circles are considered trophies, in which case I have two). During that time I felt truly alone so turned to social media to find other women in their 20s who had kids and were still in school. I needed to know I wasn’t alone. I needed assurance that I wasn’t crazy for all of the things I felt, or a bad mom for not knowing all of the millions of things about parenting that I didn’t know. But the internet was real quick to let me know in which spaces I was safe to be a “struggling new mom,” and in which spaces I would be judged. A painful lesson in performative allyship from those with tremendously more support and resources than I had.
Maybe they just didn’t get it. But someone had to, I just needed to find them.
Reentering the world of higher education as an employee in my 30s was daunting. Especially because I was going back to the same institution that made me feel ostracized and undervalued as a student all those years before. But to my surprise, it came with a breath of fresh air. I had made personal strides and began to walk in my power. I had a stronger sense of my purpose and calling, and that seemed to attract others on a similar path. Then it hit me! Your community isn’t just people with whom you broadly have things in common, like being a mom or living in Dallas. It’s the group of people with whom you have a deep personal connection, those who have an intimate understanding of the challenges you face at an intersectional level. If they get you and embrace all that you are, those are your people!
Once again, I found refuge in those who were fighting the same battles I was fighting, from whom I could learn how to endure those battles, who I could share my success with as a way to help them - it was symbiotic. It was beautiful. The women that I met at that time became my forever friends, my chosen family who I could both turn to and pour in to without reserve. Being a mom in my 20s positioned me to be a resource to them as they had their children in their 30s. My struggle suddenly had meaning and I could help those who faced the same scrutiny I once faced. I became the older Black ladies that helped me back in undergrad. I was able to hold my sister with whom I was in community and convince her that imposter syndrome was an evil, dirty lie and that being pregnant wouldn’t stop her from finishing her degree because we are stronger together and I would never let her fail. I became the person that I needed when I was in their shoes. It was coming full circle and it was powerful.
As I refined my purpose and sense of self, I was really able to hone in and find my true community. And as it turns out, my people have been here all along, I just had to know myself well enough to recognize who they were – and who they weren’t. That’s the key to finding a community that nurtures your soul. I’m always growing and evolving, so I’d expect my community to do the same. Which is exciting and very much welcomed. Each person who touches my life makes me better. We truly are stronger together. So where ever life takes me on this beautiful journey, I will keep my community close, and my sisters closer!