By Jasmine Hilbert, Culture Change Lead
As I look back, Black History Month was not a big thing for me growing up, even though I was biracial. In my elementary school we would learn the usual things about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks and do a few crafts and activities and that was it. Once the month ended, it was on to the next thing.
My day to day reality, though, was informed by my mother being Black and my father being white. They were high school sweethearts, and had me shortly after they graduated and married at the end of the 80’s. My mother did her best to expose me to Black culture and keep us connected and close to family, but also acknowledged that I wasn’t only Black. I give her credit for never making me feel like I had to “choose a side.”
This kind of affirming stance, unfortunately, didn’t carry over as I navigated school. There were constant reminders that I wasn’t enough for either “side.” I was called an “Oreo-cookie” or “half-breed” (those were some of the nicer names), and there were scuffles and so on. I was torn and confused; how could I choose one identity over another? I loved both my mom and my dad, and my extended family too.
Then my mother passed when I was ten. My strongest link to who I was and my Black history was gone and it felt like for a while, a lot of branches on that side of my family tree were breaking off.
My father did the best he could in the situation to keep my horizons expanding. He gave me the gift of a broad range of books and movies. I used these to “travel” all over the world and got to see that life wasn’t just in black and white but blossomed in full color. I remember when he brought the movie “Bend It Like Beckham” home, the main actress was Indian and her character’s name was Jesminder “Jess”, and wow, she looks like me, and PLAYS SOCCER! It truly opened my world. I then got into Bollywood movies, and it just snowballed from there.
I started watching any and everything from all over the globe that I could get my hands on. My mind was blown when I learned that Alexander Dumas, the author of my favorite book, “The Count of Monte Cristo”, was biracial like me! I got to see the world from my living room, and I didn’t feel so lonely. But there was still something missing.
I was overwhelmed by a feeling that even though I had all these bits and pieces collected from lots of different places, a true mosaic of culture, at my center I was still missing a big chunk of me. It took getting sober for this to change. It wasn’t until I got sober that I really started to see and love myself as a whole person. For example, I made a hair appointment to get my first silk press, and I felt fabulous. I started embracing my natural curly hair, and this was after going to the hair salon (for hours) with my mother as a child but never being allowed to participate because my hair texture was more like my father's. In recovery my inner world was expanding.
I also started doing genealogy and learning more about my mother's side. I began to explore a world I thought was closed off and lost to me. What had felt like a one-month a year thing (Black History Month), became a celebration of every part of me every day. I cried when I saw the movie Black Panther in theaters for the first time, I walked out of there feeling like I was enough, and I was powerful. Representation matters.
Fast forward and now I am embracing my new role as Culture Change Lead at SMART. I want to live up to the core of what we do: share tools through our peer model that leads our participants on to a journey of self-empowerment and wholeness.
Yes, this month we will be intentional with our content to focus on Black History Month. But for us here at SMART, celebrating one another and our mosaic of beautiful backgrounds isn’t just a month, week, or day: it’s every day. I am thankful to be able to celebrate with a group of people who make beautiful, practical, and life-changing contributions to our society daily.
There is a saying, “A candle loses nothing when it lights another candle.” I urge all of us to continue to share our light with others, so that they may see the road ahead.