Dear Jadie [and all the other Black girls growing up in a world that erases them and still expects them to carry a nation on their backs],
Keep your head up. Keep your back straight. Keep your eyes open. You have your grandmother’s eyes and the world needs that light to guide it out of the darkness. But don’t do it for the world, keep your eyes open for yourself. You need to keep your eyes open to see the beautiful Black woman you are becoming.
You need to keep your eyes open to see how you are shaping the world with your powerful presence. You need to keep your eyes open to see the beauty the world has to offer. You need to keep your eyes open to learn from my mistakes. You need to keep your eyes open to see the beauty of your mothers, aunts and sisters in the struggle. They will help show you a way to be, though not necessarily your way.
And yes, you need to keep your eyes open to avoid life’s pitfalls and dangers.
We are living in dangerous times. Our oppression is real. Your pain is real and you did nothing to deserve it. Do not hide your head in the sand but don’t let you pain define you. Organize, agitate and speak out to liberate yourself and those around you.
There is power in utterance and as Audre Lorde said, “your silence will not protect you.”
As you sit in class thinking that weight of the world is on your shoulders, know that you don’t carry that weight alone. Know that you don’t have to fix all the world’s ills. Know that you don’t have to climb America’s racial mountain to be successful.
The fate of the world is the responsibility of all of us, just as with the destiny of Black people, it is not your cross to bear.
Please, know that idea of “destiny” is as false as the voice in your head telling you to quit. Know that you are not just a statistic. At the end of the day success is subjective and we build our own happiness.
Know that while we cannot always control the plot of our lives, we can construct our own life narratives.
You must be the heroine of your own story. Whether your life is a tragedy or a comedy is entirely up to you.
Know that there is no proper way to be. Know that everything gets easier when you accept yourself for the beautiful, flawed and worthwhile human you will always be. Know you don’t have to do anything but thrive and continue to grow to make your family proud.
I know it may not seem like that. I know our family placed a lot of that weight on your shoulders. I know we told you to prepare for the worst. I know calling you queen made you think you had to rule. I know we taught you be wary of asking for help.
I know we told you to be strong but taught you to be hard. I know that despite what we may have said, we taught you to bear it all alone till it breaks you. I know we sometimes forgot to model for you how to ask for help before it got to be too much to bear.
I’m sorry. I’m sorry you are now old enough to understand how cruel and hard the world can be. I’m sorry that the world will not pause for you to be able to figure it out. I’m sorry that you will have to live your life at full speed.
I’m sorry you are old enough to know that adults are not always right but still too young to not rely on us for almost everything. I’m sorry for all that I did, and still do, to place this weight on your shoulders.
I’m sorry we told you that you have to work twice as hard to get half as much. I’m sorry we narrated your life in terms of deficit and debt. I’m sorry that I told you lead then called you bossy for showing initiative.
I’m sorry it’s so hard to be a Black girl in America.
I’m sorry for not telling you are beautiful, just the way you are, every day. I’m sorry I still told you were beautiful more often than I told you were brilliant. I’m sorry for every time I forgot to tell you how proud I am of you.
For every time I forgot to mention your genius, your talent, your strength; I’m sorry. I’m so sorry for every time I didn’t have the patience to explain my frustration to you. I’m sorry for every time I made your mistakes seem like a reflection of who you are or could be. In reality, it was more a reflection of my fear for your future.
I wish I could take your pain away. I wish I could explain that there is not one way to be Black. I wish I could teach you how to love YOUR Blackness. I wish I could teach you love it without being defined by it. I wish I didn’t teach you to talk about “those Black people.”
I wish our family had figured out a better way to prepare you to thrive in world that doesn’t respect your humanity. The truth is, we are as imperfect as we seem. But we are trying.
And we belief in you. Even though you don’t always hear it when your mother and I tell you, we love you and are so proud of you.
Your poetry blows my mind. Your talent inspires me. Your voice gives me hope that maybe our future is brighter than I imagined.
We won’t understand all the choices you make, but your grandparents didn’t understand ours. We are terrified that we will release you into the world unprepared, but your grandfather still calls me to make sure I’m sleeping and am taking care of myself. So, while we don’t know what you will do with your life, but we can’t wait to see it.
You are powerful. You are brilliant. You are an amazing young woman. All you need to do is you. You don’t need to strive to move mountains. You don’t need to plan to carry the weight of the world on your back. You don’t need to stress over ensuring that you do amazing things in the future.
Love yourself unconditionally.
Make mistakes at full speed.
Reflect early and often.
Fight the fights that need fighting.
Learn to ask and accept help.
Don’t lose faith in other people’s humanity and don’t waste your time with people who can’t see yours.
Do this, and you’ll shine to brightly to notice anyone’s shade.
Do this, and you’ll be too busy living to worry if you are successful.
Know that I love you for everything you are and everything you’re not. I love how much of my siblings I see in you. I love much of you is unique and wonderful. I love that you are a beautiful self-creation just beginning to realize your own power.
Keep doing you!