#BlackCulture #BlackHerstory #BlackHistory #BlackWomen #BlackMen #BlackChildren #BlackLawyers #BlackHealers #BlackStudents #BlackEducators #BlackHomeOwners #BlackLivesMatter
As we honor Black History Month in February, a time of joy, reflection, and celebration of #BlackCulture, I often fall into a space of introspection to ensure I exude my ancestors dreams in all steps taken and breath inhaled and exhaled.
The late Dorothy Height, a civil rights activist once said, “Greatness is not measured by what a man or woman accomplishes, but by the opposition he or she has overcome to reach his goals.” Every time I read such quote, I am reminded that we often celebrate the end result, but I ask, “what about the process?” While there is certainly great joy in accomplishing one’s goals, the variations of emotions, resiliency, and experiences encompassed in the journey to the end, are also significant!
This piece is a candid reflection of one extroverted, first-generation, Black millennial, woman’s experience navigating through the early stages of her goals in #Chapter30 of her life regarding home ownership, obtaining a professional degree, and being vulnerable; all while persisting through a global pandemic as outlined below:
- The Power of the Pivot
- Purposeful Persistence
- Tangibility of Equity
- When the Unknown is the Leading Teaching Manual
- Not All That is Felt is Discussed
- Hindsight Provides the Best Vision
- In Loss I Learned Love
- It’s a Different Type of Love From Here
The Power of the Pivot:
February 1, 2020; the first COVID-19 case was confirmed by state health officials in Massachusetts. On March 15, 2020, Governor Baker issued his first Massachusetts shutdown of public and private schools, restaurants, banned gatherings of more than 25 people, and implemented various other interventions in efforts to decrease the continued spread of COVID.
During a moment that should have brought relief and in some ways did-in efforts to protect the human race, I found myself quickly falling into a state of deep sadness, fear, and discomfort by the unknown of the pandemic’s shutdown in Boston as a native. As an entrepreneur, I was getting ready to launch a speaker’s series at the close of March 2020 for women’s history month. Imagine one’s dismay upon learning that her efforts to bring generations of Black women together to celebrate life, acknowledge struggles, and build community at Darryl’s Corner Bar & Kitchen; a Black-Woman-Owned restaurant in Boston was no longer possible! I was battling thriving in acceptance of a new “normal” or succumbing to defeat in denial from it.
Pivoting quickly became a necessity as an entrepreneur. While staying true to my mission of Know Your Truths. Speak Your Truths., LLC, I transitioned my in-person speaker’s series into virtual discussions on the infamous Zoom platform in April, 2020. I continued forward in such capacity through the summer, while also accepting the rescheduling or cancellations of previous speaking engagement contracts I had, and honoring new ones from organizations who had pivoted as well. When one door closes, many others do open. At a time of pivoting through the unknown, I was able to reach audiences beyond my city and state, and that has been a blessing. One that has allowed me to reach beyond Boston and provided a taste of what “business beyond Boston’s borders©” is like! Appreciative of such lesson, it is now my responsibility to explore the range of depth I am now exposed to and to maintain my pivot accordingly.
In my eyes, Black women are resilient in ways that I believe are unmatched. In spaces where we are dismissed and overlooked, we take on the weight of our communities gracefully as we often “take one for the team” and navigate our lives; paying homage to those before us, working to uplift those alongside us, and also prepping the world for those behind us. With such perspective, it was the shameless killing of George Floyd in May 2020, the incomprehensible killing of Breonna Taylor in March 2020, and the resurfacing of Ahmaud Arbery’s February, 2020 daylight murder that solidified my urgency to follow through with my adolescent career and academic aspirations of attending law school. My purpose is to serve my people and my community by dismantling systems that victimize some, more than others with a lack of accountability. I believe a legal understanding of systemic and institutional disparities in society provides a compass to structure the implementation of actionable radical change, one life and system at a time. Although I did not enter the year 2020 knowing that I would have applied to law school, the moment my heart felt it was time to move forward, I did so without reservation. In late spring of 2020, the words, “Bernadine, the law and law school will always be here . . . follow through on all of your other aspirations and when you’re ready to go to law school, you will.” were words that served as a guide to me when I first heard them from a partner at Brown Rudnick when I was an undergraduate intern through a partnership with the Boston Lawyers Group in 2011. He and I had a meeting to discuss all of my interests as a passionate Black woman committed to legal equity and representation, as my passions were also tied to youth, education, and service. The words of that partner at Brown Rudnick changed my life! A little shy of 10 years from that initial conversation, I am now in my first year of law school-after earning both my bachelor’s and my master’s degrees, I worked at one of the only African American cultural centers in higher education at Northeastern University as a leader in recruitment and retention of Black and Brown students while supporting the advancement of faculty and staff of color, I founded my own consulting company: Know Your Truths. Speak Your Truths., LLC – through which I have spoken to and worked with thousands of people as a motivational speaker and diversity workshop facilitator, I currently work in HR in one of the leading public school districts, I am a co-host of The Urban Collective Show – a Boston based podcast focused on highlighting unsung heroes within the greater Boston community, and I own my first home; all at age 30. I share that to affirm that, YOUR PATH is YOURS alone to live up to, but NOT YOURS alone to travel through. There is no traditional timeline to abide by in life. The best path for you is the path you must embark on as you stay true to yourself-unapologetically. I have and will continue to merge my personal and professional interests as they overlap and go hand-in-hand with my life’s purpose. It is and always will be up to you to fulfill your dreams.
Tangibility of Equity:
As I navigate through life, it has been abundantly clear that generational wealth and financial literacy are all elements of my life that have proved importance over the years as I have learned to prioritize them. Having been raised in the low socio-economic bracket, it was not until I attended undergrad, that I understood the depth of the financial struggle and the great lengths my mother had to persist through to own her multi-family home in the city of Boston as a single parent of 3 children, during a time where the city’s red lining history was and still is felt. My mother’s forward thinking, amongst financial poverty instilled a level of value in homeownership in me. At a time where so much was unknown in a pandemic, I moved forward to own a house in the city of Boston myself at 30 years of age as a single Black woman. I now know that generational wealth is built with equity and maintained with attention to detail and responsible sacrifice!
March-July 2020, were my months of 1) strategically adding to a steadily increasing bank account, 2) educating myself on the homebuyer’s process, and 3) developing an understanding of my credit score’s impact on the largest financial investment of my life to date-BUYING A HOUSE!
For months, I intentionally paid down debts on my credit cards to be under 10% utilization, I chipped away at some school loans (even with the pause of payment provided by the government), and I decreased my spending habits all together (partly given the pandemic shutdown and because I was focused). My spending was limited to investing in my future. To allow my vision to come into fruition, I viewed homes before I was ready to make an offer to gather a sense of what would work for me, I kept my faith in God, and allowed God to guide me. Through home visits, I knew I needed a home that was going to be “move in ready” and required little to no fixing up before moving in. Thus, I would likely be presented with a higher asking/selling price and I needed to be ready for that. Initially, I wanted to own a multi-family house, and begrudgingly came to terms that I was unjustly priced out of such opportunity in Boston. Nonetheless, I was blessed that the first Boston house I put an offer on was accepted, and what was once a dream, became a reality. Having written an offer letter far before I even stepped foot in the house, my heart knew the house I purchased was meant to be mine and I was determined to make it my home!
“I closed on my first home the same week I started my first year of law school!”
When the Unknown is the Leading Teaching Manual:
Excited, proud, and determined-sure! I am a proud, first-gen, Afro-Haitian-American, woman, law student, and homebuyer. Who would not be proud, right? But what if I wasn’t proud. . . at least not yet? Haitians are prideful people who find joy in titles such as lawyers for a profession, add the homeowner element, and well-you are a golden child! However, I was also nervous, scared, and was not ready for the unknown that became relevant shortly after the ecstatic positive waves of emotion and transitions took full force:
- The feelings of further isolation now that I lived by myself in the middle of a pandemic hit HARD.
- An extrovert struggling to maintain her sense of balancing various competing interests, while having to transition into the unknown world of law was FRIGHTENGING.
- Undergoing the first year of law school VIRTUALLY without human interaction with professors, advisors, and peers was DEVASTING.
Setting boundaries with family and friends as I work to implement a schedule to be there for others, while learning how to be there for a new version of myself was CHALLENGING.
- Learning about and embracing the realities of the depth of vulnerability and sacrifice for myself and with loved ones was PAINFULLY LIBERATING.
In hindsight, the emotional elements of navigating a busy staffing season within a school district, while embarking on a different type of academic learning curve, and also feeling so isolated from people I loved or barely knew (I LOVE people) were all equally difficult. As an extrovert, the essence of my being thrives in human interaction and now my transitions were done in individual silos. Additionally, I ironically felt overwhelmed by support. Everyone believed in me, all the while I was crushed internally by distance and emotional disconnect, which led me into a dark hole where I struggled immensely to believe in myself.
Not All That is Felt is Discussed:
I felt ashamed to tell people that sadness and transitions in an isolating moment for the world brought me a type of grief I felt was unparalleled and that I was not happy-though I had SO much to be grateful for. I was mourning my old ways of life at a time where I should be proud and focused, so I felt guilty. I felt guilty that I was not the happiest version of myself and that I was not thriving because I was still adjusting. I felt guilty because people believed in me, and I felt like I did not believe in myself. I felt embarrassed to cry out because I was viewed as a woman of strength. I felt alone even when surrounded by friends who believed I would be ok, because deep down, I became a woman who did not know how to ask for help.
My house was “move-in ready” and I made it a home within weeks. And still, I was hurting. As one mourns human connection, living alone gives you time to think. I thought about my pains and cried for hurts I had no idea still lived within me. I felt helpless in my inability to truly support one of my siblings who was struggling to find hope and purpose in himself. All the while, I needed to focus on my life as a law student and had no idea how to make school make sense to me. I did not know how to do it all in a world that believed I had it all figured out. I needed to be vulnerable with my team, and I needed to vulnerable with myself.
Hindsight Provides the Best Vision:
First semester of law school proved to be a crash course on resiliency and humility for me. I was humbled by my grades and need to ask for help, I was left to my own devices to try to be emotionally distant yet present for my family during a difficult time for one of my siblings regarding their mental health, and I was forced (and empowered) to address some unresolved matters of the heart (living on your own gives you the time and space to heal differently).
In all, I felt the weight of being a first in the family, an unapologetic Black woman, and an extrovert with ambition. I doubted my worth many times and my ability to push through challenge. The conditioning of being a resilient Black woman led me to reach out later, rather than sooner. By the time finals came around, I established a better work ethic and boundaries, but was a bit behind. I kept my head down and in my books. So much so, when I felt sick, I thought it was a result of burnout-only to find out after my finals, my sickness was due to contracting the COVID-19 virus. I completed TWO finals with COVID, and the icing on the cake was right after I was done with my last final, my estranged father passed away from COVID-19 complications.
I mean 2020 was a whirlwind of life for sure-filled with moments of highs and moments of lows! I spent the holidays in further isolation having to quarantine and cried to myself often. I attended the funeral of my father virtually due to having COVID, and again, I cried . . . A LOT! To lose a father who you had plans to rebuild with, hurt deeply. I never knew I had that many tears to shed for life-lived and life- gone. Having survived those days, I was reminded that life can take you down while you are already down, but life can also lift you up.
Blessed and grateful to have a home to cry, process, and embrace life’s transitions was what was written in the last 6 months of 2020 for me and I needed to show up. Little did I know, the pandemic would have been the boost I needed to walk into this next decade of my life with more intention and purpose in a world full of firsts and unknowns.
In Loss, I Learned Love:
Healing through the loss of my father in December 2020 solidified my strength and my commitment to my heart. I never took the chance to learn about him and love him as I should have when he was alive. For various reasons, I divorced my father as a child, when my mother divorced him as a partner. I hurt myself in the process. I pushed intimate love away because I never wanted another man to hurt me the way my father did. I was scared to be vulnerable because I let ego and fear guide me at my most vulnerable stages, rather than compassion, grace, and love. However, through the loss of my dad, I learned a deeper type of love.
A love rooted in forgiveness, patience, courage, humility, and acceptance of change. I learned to love myself more by being patient with my healing. Pre-pandemic, I acknowledged the existence of emotions but persisted through challenging ones by pouring into others. During the pandemic, I learned the importance of tapping into my emotions in the moment, and truly allowing myself to feel the pain, hurt, and ugly. One can mourn elements of their lives through growth, even when presented by blessings. My closest loved ones have also received more of me! My vulnerability, openness, joy, sadness, and confusion are shared with them often now, and I am here to listen and support their growth with even more compassion and intention.
It’s a Different Type of Up From Here:
Today, I am in my second semester of law school, settled in my home, adjusting to work-school balance, opening my heart to love, managing my company by pouring into my studies, growing closer to my loved ones-through healthy balance of distance and presence, and I am being intentional with my self-care and self-love routines. I am more settled, focused, aware, committed, balanced, invested, and present. Law school is generally challenging and the first year is brutal, remote or in person. However, I have started the spring semester off with a team of academic advisors, a calendar of accountability dates, emails to professors, and a structure to attend and participate in teacher assistant sessions, all while studying on my own, and working full-time. I have decided to show up differently for myself and my future. My home is my sanctuary and I have implemented balance with facetime with family and friends, and I have shared my boundaries and expectations with them as well. It is not easy, but it is also not impossible.
Life is truly not about the end result, but 100% about the journey. The only feelings you should feel guilty about having are the feelings that prevent you from exploring the variations of how you really feel.
To anyone embarking on major life transitions, remember the following:
- The journey to your destination is just as important as the end result.
- Be kind to yourself and give yourself grace.
- Balance comes with time and intentional practice.
- Short-term sacrifices are needed for long-term planning.
- Do not run from emotions, allow yourself the space to process them.
- Share your moments of strength AND weakness with your support system.
- Isolation/quarantine has its lows, but also its highs. Acknowledge and embrace the range.
- This is a challenging time to exist and thrive in culturally, racially, politically, economically, educationally, socially, and personally, but you will persist!
- Pace yourself.
- Love yourself.
YOU are all that you have dreamed of and more!
Go on and SHARE YOUR JOURNEY WITH THE WORLD!
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