Finding My Voice

Updated: Jan 22, 2020

I was born in the 80’s and raised in quaint Palatine, a suburb that is about 45 minutes northwest of Chicago. I come from a strong black family and my success is largely a result of the progress and sacrifices of those in my family lineage and those who represent and have represented the black collective. My parents did well for themselves and the expectation is that I will do better because those who came before me resourced and equipped me with the beliefs, values, and education to succeed.

I inherited my parents’ values, my father's personality, and my mother's faith. I am passionate, fun-spirited and strong-willed, but I did not start off this way. My parents thought it was wise to raise me in an affluent neighborhood because of what my mother had experienced in Chicago’s ghettos. In Palatine, opportunity was great, but it came at a cost. Back then, there was not much diversity in Chicago’s surrounding suburbs. It was predominantly black and white and not much in between. I was one of few black children and the all too frequent feeling of aloneness took a psychological toll on me. I used to wonder why God made me a black girl. My hair was not long, it was not naturally straight, and my skin was dark so I felt like I did not belong.

Through the years, I became timid and my voice was silenced because of the treatment I received from teachers and peers. I got a cut on the playground and the teacher expressed to my mother that she did not know black people bled red. I vividly remember times when I was kicked out of class for speaking too loudly during read-aloud time while I was helping another student learn to read. I was also accused of cheating in advanced math class and science. Both times I had received perfect scores on my exams and I was not guilty of these accusations. My parents had to advocate for me constantly. I felt, small, irrelevant, devalued, marginalized, and discriminated against so I grew into an intelligent black girl who was afraid to speak.

In high school, I scored well on my AP exams, received awards for my academic performance and was accepted into the accounting program at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign (UIUC). I wanted to go to UIUC for four reasons: it was close to home, it was my mother's alma mater, it was the number one accounting program in the nation, and the campus was beautiful. Additionally, the Associate Dean of Students & Director of Minority Student Affairs was the same man that recruited my mother to the school almost 30 years prior. It was inspiring to see blacks in leadership positions and I was thankful that they regarded me like they did family while I was away from my own.

Despite the beauty in this, racial disparities in education were in full force and we were all only 18 years old. UIUC was segregated and injustice was hard to miss. 3% of UIUC’s 40,000 students were black and they were all (and still are) clustered together on one side of campus. The dorms the black students reside in are the furthest away from ‘the quad’ (center of campus) and they are the most outdated. Many of my black peers were accepted into UIUC through affirmative action programs that were established to help correct the impact of the injustices they faced in the past. Segregation and subpar schooling were not the only barriers facing black students. Lack of access, opportunity, income, poor neighborhood resources and many other things also magnified racial inequality. To combat these injustices, I became a founding member of the National Black Master’s in Business Administration Association and joined the board for Beautiful and Together Sisters. Both are organizations that seek to unify blacks and equip them with the resources needed to be regarded as successful in America. Without these sub-communities, it would have been nearly impossible for me to grow out of my feelings of loneliness and to begin a new journey of discovering my true character, calling and purpose in life.

Life after college presented new challenges, but God knew exactly what I needed. Upon graduating, I moved to Miami to pursue an opportunity with the University of Miami. My supervisor was the Director of Payroll and she just so happened to be a Jamaican woman. I was thrilled to learn from someone with whom I shared my identity and so this was one less barrier I had to worry about upon entering my new founded career in education. A few years later, I moved back to Chicago and I ended up working for another successful black woman. What are the odds? She was the Executive Director of a program in the Law School at Northwestern University. I was blessed to be able to work under her direction because she built me up, invested in me, believed in me, and taught me how to professionally deal with the adversities we both experienced in the workplace. I did not realize it then, but I was finding my voice.

Currently, I oversee the research and finance office in the Department of Pediatrics at NYU Langone, I volunteer my time helping others discover their purpose through my involvement with Trinity Harlem, and I am a student in NYU Wagner’s Executive Master’s in Public Administration Program. I am where I am today because my parents, mentors, husband, and peers have all used their voice to advocate for me. The same things that made me feel insecure, timid and shy are the same things that led me to confidence, security, and acceptance of who I am. If I was never in a place where I was the only one, I would never have realized the value in it. I am uniquely me and I want to be a part of the movement that encourages women of color to find confidence in every environment, to embrace their identity and to harness the power of their voice so that they can truly affect change in their purposed callings.

Given the state of our nation, it is more important than ever for us to use our gifts and talents to create solutions that will help narrow the wealth, health, educational and confidence gaps that exist in society today. I look forward to living in a world where our identity and socioeconomic starting line does not define where we might end up.

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